- Jeremy Seal, The Snakebite Survivor's Club
I love snakes – always have. I find them to be very beautiful, their movements almost poetic. I think bats are pretty awesome too, from the hopping, scurrying vampire bats to the massive flying foxes. Vultures, hyenas, crocodiles – the animals that chill the blood of many people – are all fascinating to me. There is, however, one group of animals that I’ve never liked. I refer to the spiders… tarantulas especially. Tarantulas terrified me growing up. They terrify a lot of people, true, but few people find a large, hairy spider thrust upon them in their professional life.
After a while, the spider and I settled into a cautious truce. Eventually, I began to grow more comfortable around her, to the point where I did the previously unthinkable – I touched her. It started with only a few cautious taps on the back, then turning into more a stroke. Eventually, I could even pick her up with some degree of confidence. I never grew to like it, but it was a rewarding experience. Not only had a overcome a lifelong fear, but I was now in a position to introduce visitors to tarantulas and help them overcome their own fears.Fear, I learned through working with tarantulas, snakes, and other scary beasties, is a powerful emotion. It is both a repellent and an irresistible lure for many people. People are drawn towards what they fear, hence the popularity of reptile and invertebrate exhibits at many zoos. The biggest challenge I have found in educating zoo visitors is starting a conversation, in getting them to want to talk. Fear helps remove that obstacle and provides an opening for our conversation. When I hold a snake or spider, people are full of questions:
“Isn’t that dangerous?” “Aren’t you scared?” “Is it poisonous?”There are thousands of species in zoos across the country. Some are cute and fluffy. Others are beautiful and majestic. Others give people the willies. Ultimately, however, all species are deserving of conservation. Once visitors start talking to us about the animals, we can steer the conversation in the direction we want – talking about how snakes, spiders, and bats play an important role in their ecosystems, and how we should be willing to respect and appreciate them. That doesn’t mean we have to love them or cuddle them.