Reptile expert wows, educates students with collection of creatures

jmink@macon.comMarch 21, 2013 

Charlita Wynn ventured to Thursday’s presentation at Middle Georgia State College as part of her biology class. She didn’t expect to be standing in front of her peers with boxes of poisonous reptiles behind her and a long snake slithering around a metal cane a few feet from her face.

“I was nervous, but I was kind of excited,” Wynn said. “Then he pulled the snake out and I was scared.”

She was referring to Jason Clark, a Georgia man who spends his days rescuing reptiles from backyards, living rooms and any other place a wild snake or alligator might appear. His love of snakes began at the age of 7, when he plucked a garter snake from his yard and was even excited when it bit him nine times on both hands.

He has operated Southeastern Reptile Rescue since he was 14. His family has been featured on the Animal Planet series “Snakes­Kin.” Also, Clark holds presentations to try to educate people about the myths surrounding reptiles -- particularly snakes.

Those educational lectures brought him to Middle Georgia State College’s Macon campus Thursday, where he made the audience yelp, gasp, cower and gaze in awe at the snakes he showcased. It was part of his strategy to educate.

For example, he asked how many people had heard that cottonmouth snakes are aggressive and territorial. A majority raised their hands. Clark jokingly agreed with them. He lifted a cottonmouth from its box and put it on the stage, where it immediately coiled, seeming ready to strike.

Clark said he was going to show the audience how aggressive the snakes are by simply walking in front of it, provoking it to strike at him. Members of the audience gasped, shielded their eyes and held their breath as he walked past the snake. Nothing happened. He hopped over the snake. It didn’t flinch. He even stepped on the snake, and it didn’t move.

The truth is: Cottonmouths are not aggressive. Their best weapon is their ability to camouflage, so they remain as still as possible, no matter how close you get, Clark said.

“He taught me a lot of stuff I didn’t know,” said Angie Eubanks, a nursing student who brought her children to the event. “They’ve been excited the whole week.”

He also told the audience how to prevent snakebites, what to do if bitten by a poisonous snake and why it is important not to kill snakes. For one thing, it’s illegal to kill nonpoisonous snakes in Georgia, Clark said.

“They’re protected for a reason, because they’re viewed as assets,” Clark said as he held a long, black, rat snake.

Those snakes kill rodents and even other snakes. He told the story of a man who spotted a king snake eating another snake in his driveway. As Clark tried to coax a king snake out of its box, he seemed to become frustrated, plunged his hand inside the box, yanked out a snake and smacked it against the stage, making a loud pop. As the audience yelped, Clark smiled and told them it was a plastic snake.

Even venomous snakes should be spared if possible, he said. Components in their venom are used to treat a variety of conditions, from breast cancer to heart disease.

It’s the type of information Jeff Mohr was hoping his students would learn. Mohr, an assistant professor of biology, invited Clark to bring his presentation to the college.

“This is a school, and education is very important,” he said. “It’s an exciting way for them to learn. It’s a hands-on way.”

On stage, Wynn almost got a hands-on experience. Clark was teaching the audience how to recognize a venomous snake when he called Wynn to the stage, telling her that he was going to show her how to spot a copperhead snake. When he jerked a snake from a box, Wynn yelped and scurried off stage.

But it wasn’t a copperhead. It was a corn snake -- just the identification lesson Clark was trying to teach.

“I learned a lot,” Wynn said. “And I enjoyed it.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service