ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DAVID VOGEL
“You will surely not die,” said the serpent. “For God knows that when you eat the fruit, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil….” (Genesis 3)
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Through history, the serpent has been looked down upon, whether because of its biblical history or because of the way it lives: a silent, slithering creeper.
But one local organization has found a way to spread a positive biblical message using amphibians and reptiles-including snakes.
The Tabor Herpetological Society began as a joke when Chris Hutson, the founder and president, wore his Kansas Herpetological Society T-shirt around campus.
“I wore the shirt and people were like ‘What’s that?'” he said. “So I started telling them.”
After being asked a number of times, Hutson decided that he should start a herpetological society at Tabor.
“Herpetology is a branch of zoology that studies reptiles and amphibians,” he said.
Hutson first became interested in reptiles and amphibians as a young child.
“I had a friend down the street who had a lizard,” Hutson said.
“A guy in my church who’s sort of my herpetological mentor’ is the one who really got me started. He had tons of snakes. So I’d go over and look at his snakes and alligators and turtles; everything a little kid would like. He was one of the first ones who helped my parents buy a snake when I was 9.”
Hutson said his snakes escape their enclosures frequently, and he tried to find them before his parents did.
Sometimes he wasn’t successful.
Hutson used what he knew about reptiles to lay the groundwork for the Tabor Herpetology Society. When the group held its first meeting in fall 2002, 15 people showed up.
Hutson decided the idea might go. Now there are about 90 members.
What started as a club has grown into something much more. The group has bimonthly meetings, bringing in speakers who talk about taking care for reptiles and amphibians. They also meet simply to have fun with the creatures.
The society has since adopted their own theme song, written by Brad Vogel, Hutson’s choir director at Tabor.
Along with those things, the Tabor Herpetological Society travels to many schools to teach about the animals.
“We generally ask the teachers if we can bring a positive message to the classrooms-if not a biblical message, which is usually what we end up incorporating,” Hutson said.
Some of the messages they try to communicate is how special everyone is, how everyone is created uniquely, and “lots on God’s creations.”
“We recently went to Kansas City to an English as a Second Language class,” Hutson said. “That was interesting because we had to speak through an interpreter.”
Being the Tabor Herpetological Society, members don’t just take positive messages to the classrooms. The group takes around 20 animals on each trip.
Hutson has around 50 reptiles and amphibians that are eligible for the field trips.
One of the most popular animals Hutson takes along is the plowshare tortoise, a highly endangered tortoise from Madagascar. The plowshare tortoise, also known as the African spurred tortoise, will tip the scales at about 300 pounds once it’s full grown.
Another large favorite is the Columbia Red Tail boa. By the time this snake reaches full size, it will be about 7 feet long and weigh about 20 pounds.
The society has some smaller favorites, too, such as the milk snakes, which are white snakes with light yellow patterns.
“You can usually get the kids to hold the snakes,” Hutson said. “It’s pretty impressive.”
At some of its bimonthly meetings, the society brings in professional herpetologists who do field research. Herpetoculturists also come, bringing exotic animals.
For some variety, Hutson is trying to get a creationist and evolutionist to come, although he’s not sure if it will happen this year.
Group members also go on field trips to collect snakes from the wild, visit zoos, and to sometimes drive to their sponsoring business, the Tasty Pastry Bakery.
Yes, the Tasty Pastry Bakery in Clay Center is a sponsor.
“(The Tasty Pastry Bakery is) our only bakery sponsor,” Hutson said.
The Tabor Herpetological Society also is sponsored by various pet shops in Kansas, as well as The Igloo, a local business. Hutson also asks for private sponsors.
Hutson is pretty excited about the future goals and plans for the society.
“I’d like to improve our Web site (www.taborherps.com) a lot, and make it a valuable resource for people to learn about the Herpetological Society, which right now, is lacking in a few areas,” he said. “We’d also like to expand to other smaller (Christian) colleges.”
Hutson would also like to improve the speaking schedule to where they are booked solid.
As for Hutson’s future, the Tabor senior hopes to find a place somewhere in the field of herpetology.
“I’d like to go on, and at least get a master’s in herpetology, and then possibly work in some sort of conservation organization, or work as a state herpetologist or even in a zoo as an educational person,” he said.
Hutson might look into church-related mission work, focusing on countries that aren’t interested in Christian missionaries but want conservation workers.
“I’ve heard somebody say your first goal in life…is to live righteously for God. And then next, you figure out what way you’re going to do that,” Hutson said. “I’ll see where God calls me to go.”