Endangered Reptile Gets Assist from Pittsburgh Zoo

Article excerpt

For Henry Kacprzyk, there's no such thing as too many snakes.

The curator of Kids Kingdom and reptiles at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is closely watching four Louisiana pine snake eggs, keeping them at the proper light and temperature, and waiting patiently.

He hopes that a month from now, they'll hatch and become four new members of an endangered species to be reintroduced into the wilds of Louisiana.

"They really are beautiful snakes," Kacprzyk said. "They just reproduce so slowly in the wild, and they need our help."

The snake is found in six small areas in Louisiana and Texas, said Steve Reichling, curator of reptiles at the Memphis Zoo and the Louisiana pine snake coordinator for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

But for several years, logging and development increasingly have destroyed its habitat, and the snake's numbers are dwindling.

Reichling said the snake, which typically grows to 5 feet to 6 feet long, is "a very good contender for the most endangered snake in the United States."

The Highland Park zoo keeps three Louisiana pine snakes and is participating in a captive breeding program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife. Now several years old, the program attracted 18 zoos across the country, said Michael Sealy, a biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service's Louisiana Ecological Services office.

Zoos breed snakes with the hope of getting viable eggs in spring. In all, 22 adult pairs are in the program, Reichling said, and the potential exists for up to 80 eggs to hatch soon.

"That may be too optimistic, but we'll see," he said.

Biologists last year began releasing hatched snakes into fenced and monitored areas of Louisiana. They implant the snakes with computer chips so scientists can track them and their breeding patterns. The snakes begin reproducing after age 3.

Last week, Kacprzyk stood outside Kid's Kingdom as Acadia, an 11- year-old female Louisiana pine snake, wound around his left arm. …