Jason Clark - President of Southeastern Reptile Rescue
Reptile Defender Jason Clark - Tipping the Scales of Justice
When he was seven years old, Jason Clark found a snake while playing in the back yard. His father assured him it was a harmless garter snake, and that's all young Jason needed to hear. A short while later, Jason ran inside to his mother, excitedly displaying both hands bloodied from the nine bites delivered by his beleaguered snake. He wasn't afraid; he was filled with wonder and delight. Jason had discovered his first love.
By the time Jason was 14, he was the "expert" to contact when local 911 operators got a call about a rattlesnake curled up in an armchair or an escaped boa constrictor sunning on someone's porch. He was too young to drive, so Jason's long-suffering parents took him on calls where he had to coax reluctant reptiles from wherever they had unwittingly trespassed the boundaries of human habitation. Jason, already passionate about his cause, founded and named Southeastern Reptile Rescue with the prospect of someday being the premier reptile recovery and educational group in the Southeast region.
Jason performed his first reptile show for a school project in 9th grade at what was then
When Jason was dating his future wife, Sarah, she informed him that there would be no snakes after the wedding. Jason, of course, set out to reconcile his two loves. He gave Sarah the gift of a beautiful baby California King Snake to raise in her own apartment - only Jason came over to do all the feeding and care. As he hoped, Sarah grew attached to the snake, as she already was to Jason. Sarah ended up as imbedded in the reptile world as her husband and began helping him with the few reptile shows that he could manage to schedule.
The next major breakthrough in Jason's career was when a local doctor asked him how much he would charge to bring a few snakes to his reptile-loving son's birthday party? Jason took a deep breath and said, "One-hundred-fifty dollars." When the doctor didn't flinch, Jason excitedly called Sarah, "This doctor's going to pay us one-hundred-fifty dollars to show our snakes to some kids!" Now Jason's private shows bring in $350 plus mileage, and they can barely keep up with demand.
Why reptiles? Jason loves animals of all sorts. But reptiles get a really bad rap. "Most people," Jason notes, "think the only good snake is a dead snake. I figure that if I can get people to change their minds about reptiles, it'll be easier for them to like all other kinds of animals." Jason thinks of himself as a sort of reptile criminal defender. "The jury has already heard all the bad things about my ?clients,' so I challenge what they think they know about snakes and hopefully change their attitude about them."
Jason's educational method engenders a strong respect for the power of reptiles, while at the same time challenges others to face their fears. For example, Jason says that the key to being comfortable with handling snakes is to get bitten (by a nonvenomous snake, of course). Jason's mom, Jane, had come a long way since the garter snake incident and was now assisting with Jason's shows, but she still wasn't comfortable with the snakes. So Jason set her up with an eastern king snake. Jason had rescued "Faye" after the unfortunate reptile had its back broken with a shovel by an excited farmer. Jason nursed her back to health, but the snake was never a great fan of humans after that. During a show at Bass Pro Shop, Jason asked his mom to put Faye back in her box, knowing the snake might have other plans. Faye bit Jason's mother right at the base of her thumb and hung on. Jason's mom, not wanting to alarm the audience, turned her back to them and said urgently, in a low voice, "I'm bit, Jason! Jason, I'm bit!" Always looking for an opportunity to educate, Jason responded quickly by grabbing his mom's arm and twirling her around to face the audience, surly snake still dangling from her hand. "This is what a snake bite looks like," he informed his stunned audience.
While Jason and Sarah conduct their educational reptile shows, they remain on call to rescue reptiles and run a corresponding reptile adoption and fostering program. Jason smiles when remembering an anxious call from a woman who wanted Jason to come out right away to remove a lizard from under her shed. Jason patiently explained that having a lizard under one's shed is a very common occurrence in our area and tried to assure the woman by saying, "You've probably got a hundred of them out there." The woman countered, "You don't understand. If I've got a hundred of these out there, I'm moving." A little while later, Jason's wife Sarah was hauling a four-and-a-half-foot
Jason Clark's imposing figure does engender a sense of confidence and security as a former law enforcement officer at 6'5" tall and 325 pounds. At the time of the interview, he had a small distinct slash on his lower lip where the recalcitrant Faye had leapt up and bit him, and a decidedly chewed-up right arm from a five-foot caiman that bit him while he was instructing his wife in the correct way to tape up a caiman's mouth for a show (?Now that was the wrong way!') Animal Planet decided that they liked the looks of Jason and his family and have just finished filming a six-episode series with him on a year-long contract. Jason and Sarah are excited at the opportunity to take their reptile operation, which now includes Jason's parents and two little girls, to the national level.
We watched Jason in action at the Public Library in Barnesville where about 60 children and their parents filled the room. For one part of the show, Jason laces up knee-high leather boots and instructs the half circle of children sitting on the library floor to move back. He uses his snake hook to remove a thick-bodied cottonmouth from a wooden box and place it on the carpeted floor. The snake quickly adopts its customary coil. Jason uses this snake and, afterward, a hefty Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake to illustrate an important point. Snakes don't want to bite us. Jason stomps and clomps around all sides of the coiled serpents, playing the part of a clumsy, oblivious hiker and just barely missing them. The snakes invariably look as if they're trying to turn themselves invisible, crouching into an even deeper coil. Only when Jason actually presses the rattlesnake with the toe of his boot does the viper strike, leaving a bit of venom that Jason scoops up with an index finger. "Is this poison?" he asks the children. Illustrating the difference between venom and poison (don't try this at home), Jason sucks the venom off his finger - one dose of which is enough to kill eight grown men. Venom must be injected into the bloodstream to be effective.
So let's get rid of all the venomous snakes, Jason proposes to the fascinated children seated in the library. Other snakes eat rats. Why not keep those and kill all the dangerous ones? Jason begins his closing argument. The venom of the Southern Copperhead contains contortrostatin, which has been proven in lab tests to reduce breast cancer tumors by up to 70%. Pygmy Rattlesnake venom provides the protein needed for Integrilin® a sort of "Super Aspirin" used for heart patients. The aptly named drug, Viperinex, derived from Malayan Pit Viper venom, is effective in dissolving blood clots, showing promise for stroke victims. An enzyme found in cobra venom may provide the key to curing Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and Jason's point is clear. There is a reason for every creature on this earth. Man, in his perpetual hubris, too often decides which of his fellow creatures are worthy, and which are not. And with that, the defense rests.
To schedule a reptile show that you and the kids will never forget, or for a reptile emergency, call Jason at 404.557.2470 or visit Southeastern Reptile Rescue at SnakesAreUs.com. To report a cobra in your church shoe, call 911.
It's just about impossible to think of any animal
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