Listed as an Illinois Species in Greatest Need of Conservation, the tiny green serpents have seen their numbers dwindle with ongoing loss of their prairie habitat, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday.
The snakes are reared at the zoo in optimum conditions to prepare them for survival in the wild when they are released, Lincoln Park Zoo officials said.
"Once the eggs hatch, we feed the young snakes a steady diet of crickets and worms and monitor their progress to assess which individuals would fare best in the wild," zoo manager Dan Boehm said.
The forest preserve is used as part of a "soft release," where the snakes will spend time getting accustomed to the wild while still living in a managed environment designed to limit predators, a joint release from the zoo and the forest preserve district said.
"Snakes need champions too," Lincoln Park Zoo Reintroduction Biologist Allison Sacerdote said in the release. "People like the warm and fuzzy animals, but it is important that conservation stretches across the entire ecosystem."