Snake Conservation Goes Hollywood

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Pair of courting western diamondback rattlesnakes at a den in Arizona. image provided by Advocates for Snake Preservation.

There aren’t many animals that are more likely to inspire fear than rattlesnakes. They are actually amazing and socially complex creatures! Rattlesnakes care for their young, sometimes babysit the young of other adults, and protect each other. However, they are gathered up and killed at events called rattlesnake roundups.

Rattlesnake roundups are contests calling for hunters to bring in as many snakes as they can catch in a year, at which point the snakes are slaughtered and sold for skin and meat. During these events, snakes are often hurt and inhumanely treated before being killed. Currently, there are more than a dozen roundups in the U.S., and combined they kill more than 18,000 snakes every year.

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Jeremy Pelsinski at the Claxton Wildlife Festival. Image provided by 2A1L

When it comes to raising awareness about rattlesnake roundups, it can be hard to get people to care about an animal that is often hated and feared.

That’s where Hollywood comes in! Wildlife biologists-turned-filmmakers Jeremy Pelsinski and Cori Elwood are currently filming a documentary about rattlesnake roundups with hope that they can spread awareness about the issue and compassion for rattlesnakes.

Having known about rattlesnake roundups since high school, Jeremy always knew it was an issue he wanted to tackle. In spring of 2014, he attended and filmed the world’s largest rattlesnake roundup (in Sweetwater, Texas) for his Masters of Fine Arts thesis documentary. Since then, Jeremy has partnered up with Advocates for Snake Preservation, and Rounding Up Sweetwater has developed into a feature-length documentary.

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2A1L taping for their documentary at OMG HQ in Atlanta GA. Image provided by OneMoreGeneration.org

Jeremy and his film crew flew from Los Angeles to visit Carter and me a few weeks ago. He also attended and filmed the Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival in Georgia. Once a roundup, Claxton switched to a humane wildlife festival and is now a beacon for conservation and education. This alternative is exactly what Jeremy wants to put forward in his documentary.

The reason Jeremy came to meet with us is because my brother and I have also been working hard to try and get the two communities here in Georgia still doing roundups to convert their events to wildlife festivals. We have been working with several other passionate organizations, and although it took a few years, together we helped Claxton make the switch.  You can read more about our efforts to save rattlesnakes at the following link: Saving rattlesnakes is easy, educating adults can sometimes be harder.

You can also see the trailer of their documentary here: Rounding Up Sweetwater Extended Trailer #1

Through Rounding Up Sweetwater, Jeremy hopes to further appreciation and respect for rattlesnakes and convince the remaining roundups to convert to wildlife events. You can learn more about the film and support his work by visiting roundingupsweetwater.com.

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Cool 2A1L (Two Activists and a Lizard) Logo

Before we start, tell our readers why you guys came up with the odd name of “2A1L” for your company.

The documentary’s producer, Cori Elwood, and I have worked together, gone to school together, and been best friends for years. We used to share all of our activism/conservation posts on our personal Facebook pages, and friends and family began to complain that we posted too much. As a happy medium, we created the Facebook page, Two Activists and a Lizard (representing the two of us and our Argentine black and white tegu, Drake) for people to follow if they chose. Gradually, this name became shortened to 2A1L and was a natural title when we formed our production company 2A1L Productions, LLC!

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Sweetwater Vendors selling their wears made from slaughtered snakes. Image provided by 2A1L

Why do you think it is so hard to get people to care for snakes or even most reptiles? 

Reptiles and, in particular, snakes are one of the most feared and misunderstood groups of animals on the planet. Their biology is so different than ours, and I think it is hard for most people to relate to them as they would a critter with fur. In addition to this, society and media present them as villains or monsters. They always represent a danger or a bad guy. They are literally the symbol of evil in books and films like the Harry Potter series. With all the programming we see that furthers this stereotype, we hope our film will spread a positive message and can show what snakes are really like!

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Hands down, my favorite part of the job is being able to share my knowledge and passion with others. Passion is contagious and there is nothing more rewarding than watching someone become interested in wildlife and conservation! No matter what people are passionate about, we all have the ability to share that with the world in our own way and create the change we wish to see!

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At the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup, participants are encouraged to place their hands in the blood of the freshly skinned snakes and record their visit by making a bloody hand print on the wall. Image provided by 2A1L

How many pets do you guys have?

Currently, not as many as we used to. Over the years we have rescued a lot of animals (mostly reptiles) from poor living conditions, and at one point we had 24 animals under one roof, ranging from scorpions to an anaconda! For most of these animals, after we nurture them back to health we find loving “forever homes” for them. Now, we have two adopted cats, three Madagascar giant day geckos, a Mexican spiny tailed iguana, and of course our beloved mascot, Drake the Argentine black and white tegu.

Why are rattlesnakes so important to us as humans?

Rattlesnakes serve such an important role in the ecosystem, but what most people don’t realize is that they are also a benefit for people as well. Rattlesnakes control rodent populations. These rodents increase the spread of disease, and damage our buildings and crops. It’s not the rodents’ fault; they are just doing what they do naturally. It’s about keeping the ecosystem balanced and snakes help make that happen. In addition to this, the medical industry is finding exciting new ways to use snake venom. Snake venom is being studied to create treatments for everything from heart attacks, strokes, and even cancer!

What’s next after this project?

After this documentary, we are going to then jump into another documentary, A Frog in the Bucket, about the illegal wildlife trade of endangered poison dart frogs in Colombia. Prior to turning Rounding Up Sweetwater into a feature-length documentary, we already started filming in South America for this film. But we will be going back to finish telling the story!

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Cori (seated on the right) and Jeremy (seated on the left) visiting with OMG founders during their taping of the documentary. Image provided by OneMoreGeneration.org

As you can see, Jeremy, Cori and their entire team are “The Real Deal.” They do this because they truly care, and to raise awareness about what humans are needlessly doing to these animals. If you have always had a fear of snakes and never given much thought about their preservation, I hope that you will see them a little differently now and that you might even consider showing your support for the work at 2A1L.

Stay tuned next week as we feature two young girls that (at the age of nine) started their own nonprofit organization, Kids Saving The Rainforest.

Olivia Ries is our National Geographic Society Youth Empowerment writer. Together with her brother Carter, she hopes to inspire others to realize that “Anybody can make a difference… if they can, you can too.” Make sure to check out their website at OneMoreGeneration.org.

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