Authored by Charli Palmer, Jacob Barrett, and Heidi Hall
For the past five years The Orianne Society has participated in the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) in Charleston, South Carolina and 2017 was no different. Just after Valentine’s Day we started packing up to make the trip south; loading brochures, banners, posters, cages, and a lot of animals. Attending SEWE is an excellent opportunity for us. It allows us to reach a large number of people to spread our message on the importance of reptiles and amphibians and the need to conserve the habitats they need to persist.
SEWE is known for a number of things, but most notably the premier art that can be found at the show, particularly wildlife art. It is a three-day celebration of all things outdoors, conservation education, hunting dogs, and an abundance of good food. Over 40,000 people attend this event each year – and we try to reach every single one of them to talk about our mission.
We are thankful to the SEWE staff for continuing to invite us every year. They provide us with tremendous opportunities to get in front of large groups of people. In fact, this year we did several television interviews for the local news channels every day we were there. Reaching a vast audience is crucial to our mission, it allows us to spread the word of conservation, change attitudes, dispel myths, and gain valuable members. In fact, each year we have made great contacts, including a current supporter that we met several years ago that, this year, donated wildlife art to Orianne to raffle off at SEWE. When we met with him at his hotel, we found him in the lobby singing the praises of Orianne and delivering the message of reptile and amphibian conservation!
Preparing for and attending an event like this takes a great deal of work and a number of our staff. Our staff attendees this year included Dr. Jenkins, Orianne’s CEO, Heidi Hall, Director of Development, and Brannon Knight, Stewardship Coordinator. However, three SEWE newcomers joined us this year as well, Charli Palmer, Orianne’s Program Manager, Jacob Barrett, Field Operations Coordinator, and Ben Stegenga, Field Technician. The following is a summary of Charli’s and Jacob’s thoughts on their first experience at SEWE:
Our booth was located in Marion Square during the exposition, and over the 3 days we were there, thousands came through our tent to see just what we were all about. Each day Dr. Jenkins put on an educational program right in the middle of the Marion Square exhibition. Onlookers were able to learn more about The Orianne Society and our conservation and land management efforts as well as imperiled reptiles and amphibians – and the grand finale – the opportunity to touch an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake! It truly was an amazing experience to see so many people with the same common interests in one place learning more about the conservation and preservation of nature and wildlife. But we weren’t the only exhibitors there, you could visit the Garden and Guns tent, Ducks Unlimited tent, all the way to watching anything from the dockdogs competition, Birds of Prey flight demonstrations, or even hands on education about cooking and gardening. If you have never had the chance to experience this exposition then you are missing out! You’re bound to find something at this event that will spark your interest!
In addition to Dr. Jenkins’ large scale education program, Orianne staff was able to speak one on one to SEWE attendees as they came through our tent. Many people that came through that weekend were not familiar with
Orianne or our mission, but that was okay! It was an incredible experience to see so many people that were skeptical to come in our area and then leave with a seemingly new found curiosity/respect for these species that we work so hard to protect. When I was a kid, all that it took was a little bit of curiosity and that turned into a strong passion for these species and their habitats. This being my first SEWE, I thought that it was a great way to get the word out about our efforts to conserve these species and their fragile ecosystems. Our tent was a one-stop-shop for all things Orianne. If someone had a particular question concerning species or land management, they could get a face to face answer from the people that live and breathe it. We saw many new faces and made a lot of new friends!