Authored by Denim Jochimsen, Orianne Society Volunteer
The Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) is a three-day celebration of wildlife and nature in Charleston, South Carolina. This annual showcase features an array of events, exhibits, and demonstrations and is attended by a diverse audience. This year, SEWE took place on February 12-14 with over 40,000 attendees, 300 exhibitors and 100 artists!
The Orianne Society has participated in this event over the past several years, and this year we even delivered a program on reptile ecology and conservation. During the program, our CEO Dr. Chris Jenkins talked about the overall mission of our organization and discussed the benefits of prescribed fire to wildlife species that depend on Longleaf Pine habitats. He then provided a brief overview of the ecology and natural history of some live reptiles while we offered attendees the opportunity to meet them close up.
At The Orianne Society booth, we displayed a range of materials including some new educational booklets focused on our land management efforts in Longleaf Pine habitats. These booklets summarize our on-the-ground approach to restoration and conservation in an easily accessible way, and they facilitated some great conversations with attendees. We also had nine different species of reptiles on display and allowed attendees to closely observe, touch or hold them. The positive benefit of this personal experience was readily apparent. After given time to acclimate to the animals and ask questions, even those attendees who expressed initial hesitancy would leave the booth with an increased sense of comfort and appreciation.
This was especially the case for Guinness, the Eastern Indigo Snake. Despite my decade-long involvement in outreach, I had not yet seen such strong and transformative reactions to a snake. Positive experiences with these animals serve to foster appreciation, and Guinness provided just that. His large size and unique coloration attracts attention. Many attendees commented on the beautiful sheen of his scales in the sunlight and their incredible smoothness. Furthermore, this species has an extremely calm temperament and tolerates being touched and held. For some, observing his demeanor encouraged them to touch or handle him themselves. Several attendees left the booth without touching Guinness but expressed their increased appreciation for Eastern Indigo Snakes and other species after their experience. For others, after spending time around Guinness, they held a snake for the very first time. This experience helped reaffirm how vital education and outreach efforts are to conservation; if people gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of a species, they will support efforts to conserve it.