COLUMBUS, Ga. - At 6-foot-5-inches and 325 pounds, Jason Clark's imposing figure served him as a law enforcement officer. Now it helps distinguish him as a "reptile defender" — soon to appear in a national cable channel series and in a presentation at Columbus State University's Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center.
Clark, who recently became part of the CSU staff at Oxbow as a reptile expert, will present "Reptile Encounter at Oxbow Meadows" at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12 at the the center, 3535 South Lumpkin Road., Columbus.
Clark, founder of Southeastern Reptile Rescue near his home in Griffin, Ga., will talk about and display venomous and non-venomous snakes of Georgia, including king snakes, rat snakes, corn snakes, copperheads, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes, plus a baby alligator and a tortoise.
The program will cover snake species identification, snakebite first aid and how to avoid being bitten, as well as tips for safeguarding property against venomous snake infestations.
Clark, who recently finished working with Animal Planet producers on a project for future airing on the channel, also will recount both humorous and dangerous moments from reptile-recovery adventures while operating his reptile rescue service over the past 10 years. Following the main presentation, guests will have an opportunity for a close-up encounter with a couple of the snakes.
While CSU's environmental learning center currently is home to 12 snakes, as well as a tortoise and an alligator, Clark will bring additional snakes from his rescue center for Saturday's show. He said the center, eventually, will also house exotic species such as vipers and cobras.
Clark's fascination for snakes and reptiles started at age 7 when he discovered and captured a garter snake while playing in his backyard. By age 14, local authorities considered him an expert and invited him along on pest control calls for snakes.
He performed his first reptile show for a ninth-grade school project. The debut drew requests for shows around the community. Eventually, his reptile-show business grew steadily as he separately worked as a Clayton County police officer, leading to the establishment of his reptile refuge that continues as a family operation.
"It's common to have rescue operations for cats, birds and other animals, but rarely for snakes," said Clark, who said he works to dispel the snakes' reputation as "a dangerous pest."
While Clark's stature as an expert grows with an anticipated national television appearance and by joining CSU's outreach center at Oxbow Meadows, he said he doesn't consider himself a teacher.
"I'm doing something that's fun, and as I'm having a good time, it resonates with my audiences and makes it easier for them to tune into the message and hopefully grasp a better understanding of the reptile world, especially snakes," he said. "What I'm doing represents a building block to raising awareness of the value of snakes to a healthy ecosystem and to medical research." (Certain venoms may hold significant medicinal properties).
Admission to the Reptile Encounter at Oxbow Meadows is $5 per person. Seating is limited.