Authored by Will Baxter-Bray
This summer I’ve had the amazing opportunity to spend close to two months working as a volunteer with the Orianne Society. I’m going into my senior year of high school this Fall, and I’ve been interested in conservation for a while now, so getting a chance to work with one of the top reptile and amphibian conservation organizations in the world has been really exciting. Through my internship, I was able to work at the Rabun County office for three weeks in June and July, and I am now a little over one week into my time at the Indigo Snake Preserve on the coastal plain. Both experiences have been eye opening and memorable in the best possible ways.
In Rabun County, I mainly helped out with the Timber Rattlesnake surveying project, which meant that pretty much every day I got to go out hiking around the Blue Ridge Mountains, getting up close and personal with the Timber Rattlesnakes that live in the area. We were primarily focused on finding gravid female rattlesnakes, and because they spend their summers living on exposed rock faces in the mountains, that’s where we wanted to be. The Southern Appalachians represent some of the wildest habitat on the east coast, and hiking out to these isolated patches of rock often involved hours of steep, sweaty hiking and bushwacking. Once we finally were able to fight our way out on to the clear rock faces, however, the sweeping views of the beautiful, undeveloped, mountain range surrounding us, as well as the chance to interact with an animal as fascinating as the Timber Rattlesnake made the journey well worth it.
Being at the Orianne Society “headquarters” in Rabun County also provided me with the unique opportunity to see the very important behind the scenes work relating to maintaining social media accounts, processing donor information, and designing a number of public outreach initiatives. Under the tutelage of the Orianne’s team of highly knowledgeable and welcoming staff, I was able to learn a lot about what working on conservation at a non-profit entails.
I’ve only been working at the Indigo Snake Preserve for about a week and a half now, but so far it’s been really great. At the moment we are mainly working on studying Snake Fungal Disease by monitoring the prevalence of the disease in local snake populations. Most days we work in the mornings and evenings, checking drift fence traps on the property, road cruising and hiking around local State Parks and Wildlife Management Areas, catching all the snakes we can find and taking swab samples to be analyzed later on. So far we’ve found a bunch of cool snakes including a pair of Diamondback Rattlesnakes, as well as many species of frogs, turtles, and salamanders. Working here with such experienced biologists and field technicians have helped me learn a lot about conservation work as well as reptile and amphibian ecology.
Through working with the Orianne Society I’ve been able to meet some great scientists, learn a lot about conservation, and see a ton of amazing animals. Not a bad way to spend the summer!