Authored by Kevin Stohlgren and Beth Schlimm
With a day filled with zip lines, every fried food imaginable and a beauty pageant, what more could you need? Snakes!
While the Evans County Wildlife Club hosted their 48th annual festival this year, it was just the fourth year of its new incarnation. The festival used to host contests that encouraged the collection of wild rattlesnakes where the snakes were displayed and ultimately slaughtered. Upon urging of biologists and conservationists, the round-up was changed to a wildlife-friendly festival.
This year’s festival was held on the weekend of March 14 and 15. Despite the lackluster weather, the event drew an impressive crowd of around 17,000 people. This was also the fourth year that The Orianne Society set up a booth where festival attendees could learn about the ecology and conservation of amphibians and reptiles while experiencing them first hand. Our booth featured a variety of native southeastern snake species including a Northern Pine Snake, Cornsnake, Scarlet Kingsnake, Eastern Kingsnake, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, and of course, our handsome Eastern Indigo Snake. For those intimidated by the snakes, we had several adorable Spotted Turtles and a Gopher Tortoise that people could handle to get their reptile fill. Even Justin Martin of Duck Dynasty Fame couldn’t resist stopping by to check out our awesome critter line up!
While you inevitably hear stories about snakes that people have killed, you also get to hear positive stories about the conservation efforts of concerned citizens. The best part of these events is seeing the enthusiasm and respect that children innately have for wildlife, showing that the fear of snakes is learned. This highlights the importance of education and outreach in conservation efforts. Witnessing a person overcoming their fear by holding a snake for the very first time is proof that strides in conservation can be made by simply exposing people, in a positive way, to these amazing animals.
The popularity of The Orianne Society booth was due in large part to the help of two incredibly knowledgeable and interactive volunteers, Matt Moore and Willah Vaigneur. We certainly would not have been able to keep up with the crowd of people if not for their assistance, so we want to send out a special thank you to them for volunteering their time.
Mark your calendars for next year’s festival scheduled for March 12 and 13, 2016. We’ll see you there!