23 October, 2006

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News Register

Boa Instructor

John Hunter’s ‘Snake Talk’ presentations delight and fright
but are always educational

By Eric Callaway

Staff Writer

North Lake College student Holly Hamblin immediately called someone to describe the scene.

"There are snakes in the cafeteria!" she said.

There were gasps and "eewes." Fear in some eyes, delight in others.

According to graphic arts student and teacher assistant John Hunter, this is exactly the reaction he expected when he removed his two boa constrictors, 4-year-old Stripe and 9-year-old Glory, from their containers in the cafeteria earlier this month.

Several students immediately stood up to touch the snakes, while several cringed and stayed in their seats.

"This is why Snake Talk is easy. You don't really have to do anything," said Hunter, "All I have is a few facts. The snakes hold their attention."

Snake Talk is a set of two presentations that Hunter has given to churches, schools and Scout troops since 1980 to dispel myths and educate people on how to respect snakes, not fear them. One presentation he gives is called “Living Vinyl.”

"One of the first myths that people are presented with is that snakes are slimy, and they're not," said Hunter.

"I use the term 'living vinyl' to describe them, because their skin feels like vinyl. This takes away that first myth," he said.

In his presentation, he covers how to respect animals in the wild, what to do if bitten by a snake, and the importance of not keeping wild animals as pets. He starts out with basic facts about snakes – how they feed, the reason they shed, and why snakes have certain patterns and colors. Then his presentation moves to a question and answer session. Most questions cover facts about snakes.

Hunter emphasizes in his presentations that snakes are very primitive and instinctual in nature.

"My tag line is 'snakes have all the intelligence of a Styrofoam cup,'" said Hunter. "They're completely instinctual in nature. It's food and water, or its not food and water. Danger or not danger."

Although Hunter can customize his presentations to suit any audience, "Living Vinyl" is directed at elementary-age children.

"With small kids, the first thing I do is make them scream as loud as they can," said Hunter. "This releases their energy and helps them stay calm during the presentation."

He begins the presentation with a small snake for students to handle and ends with a much larger one, which excites the children.

Hunter said that small kids look up to him when he gives Snake Talk presentations.

"I'm the snake man," he said.

The other presentation is a new one called "God's Design," which is a nondenominational presentation that Hunter gives at different churches in the area.

"The 'God's Design' presentation is based on the premise that God created the universe, and that if we operate within those design parameters, everything functions well," Hunter explained.

"If we operate outside those parameters with habitat destruction and chemicals in the environment, those things can disrupt that design."

Hunter gave his first presentation to a Nimitz High School science class in 1980, and has been doing it ever since. During this time, he worked as a wildlife park ranger. This is when he began doing presentations more frequently.

Although he does Snake Talk because it's his passion, he now has to charge a fee because the presentations have become an added expense in addition to raising a family.

Because of children in his house, Hunter is down to only three non-venomous snakes. But in high school, Hunter maintained a menagerie in his bedroom. He had a colony of Tokai Geckos, a trio of garden tree Boas, Burmese Pythons and aquariums with exotic fish.

"At one time, I had thirty-some-odd specimens of varying types," Hunter said. "I had a very understanding mother."

Hunter says it's in his nature to educate. NLC professor Dr. Christen Amundsen, who has had Hunter as a teaching assistant, agrees.

"John is always mild-mannered, always helpful. He's not a person to get upset about things," said Amundsen.

"He's a natural at that." This explains how in the cafeteria that day, he helped a student who was not so fond of snakes overcome his phobia in minutes. While other students were touching and holding the snakes, student Ben Karwoski stayed put. Hunter approached the student and began to try to find the root of his fear.

"Your fear will diminish in time," he told Karwoski. Karwoski's mother had been bitten by a snake which contributed to his phobia.

After talking with Karwoski for a few minutes, the once-scared student was standing with the rest of the students holding the snake. Hunter said part of helping someone get over his/her fear of snakes is peer pressure and part of it is using rational thought and logic. He has a knack for both. "If you can, find the source of the fear and remove it," said Hunter.

"I've had people cringing in the back of the room before," he said. "Give me 15 minutes with them and they're touching, if not holding, a snake."

John Hunter

John Hunter, with one of his favorite friends, Glory. His "Living Vinyl" program teaches elementary students how to respect the wild and understand snakes.

Sydney Dillard


Snakes can be mesmerizing. Just ask Sydney Dillard.

Ben Karkowski


Ben Karkowski overcomes a lifelong fear of snakes.

Margeret Gordon

Photos by Eric Calloway

Margaret Gordon introduces herself to 9-year-old Glory.





 
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