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Former Clayton cop is new 'Animal Planet' star

For local snake handler Jason Clark and his family, the way to encourage more people to value nature is to get them to embrace its "disgusting" side — particularly snakes.

Clark, 32, a former Clayton County Police Department School Resource Officer, is the president of Griffin-based Southeastern Reptile Rescue, which conducts education programs to teach people about reptiles. It also rescues the slithery critters.

Almost all of the employees of the company, which handles 9-1-1 calls about snakes throughout Georgia and its neighboring states, are Clark's relatives.

Jason Clark said his company did more than 400 hours of educational programming at schools, state parks and libraries around the state between March 2009 and March of this year. During those programs, representatives of the company talk about the different types of snakes in the world, as well as alligators, he said.

"Snakes are seen as representing the worst in nature," he said. "They are looked at as being the most despised, and disgusting creature. We figured people need to appreciate the worst in nature, to appreciate the best in nature, so we use snakes as a building block in that regard."

In addition to being snake handlers, the Clark family can now boast that they are cable television stars as well. The family, and its snake-rescue business, are the subject of a new Animal Planet television show, called "SnakesKin," which premiered with two 30-minute episodes on Monday.

"We went to a restaurant in Griffin and rented a private room with a big TV, so we watched the premier, and ate," he said. "I'm very pleased with how the show turned out."

The show is produced for Animal Planet by North Carolina-based Figure 8 Films, the same company that has produced shows such as TLC's "Jon and Kate Plus Eight," "19 Kids and Counting," and Discovery Health's "Our Little Life."

The show focuses on Jason Clark, his wife of six years, Sarah, and his father, Mike, who are the company's snake handlers, as they go out on calls to pick up snakes and, sometimes, alligators. Even Jason and Sarah Clark's daughters, Audrey, 3, and Lily, 2, are shown going on calls with their parents.

"The whole family is in the show," Jason Clark said. "Even my two kids are shown going on snake calls. We can't get baby-sitters on short notice when we get a call, so we just take them a long with us. There are some snake calls where you'll see us pushing strollers as we look for snakes."

The first two episodes are scheduled reruns. Episodes three and four will be aired, in a two-hour block, on April 18, beginning at 1 p.m. Episodes three and four are also scheduled to be shown on April 19, at 10 p.m. The final two episodes are scheduled to air on April 26, at 10 p.m., Clark said.

According to the show's episode listing on the Animal Planet web site, the six episodes in the series will feature the lives of the Clarks, including them catching copperhead snakes, rattlesnakes, a Caiman Crocodile, and a snapping turtle. The final episode will feature the entire family going on a vacation to Reed Bingham State Park, which is located in Adel, Ga.

Clark said a representative from Animal Planet called him in April 2008, while he was responding to a snake call, about doing the show. Network officials had been looking for new shows that featured families who dealt with animals, he said. "I'm usually up for doing anything, so I said ‘sure.' "

Clark said filming lasted from May 2008, to December 2009, with camera crews following for sometimes 10 days at a time, and other times for one day. He said the camera crews accompanied him to a few calls to pick up snakes in Clayton County, but he is not sure if they will be included in any episodes.

The filming had to fit in around Jason Clark's duties as a Clayton County police officer, causing him to have to use up his vacation, personal-leave, and sick-leave time, to do filming. "It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done, but also the most fun," he said. He added that catching snakes, which is something he has been doing since he was 7, is what he enjoys doing most.

Clark said he left the Clayton County Police Department, after more than seven years, in September 2009, because of the demands of running a snake-rescue business, and not because of the demands of filming a television show.

"It got to the point where I was having to take so much time off from my police duties to be a snake handler, that I had to say to myself, ‘So, which one am I going to do," Jason Clark said. "I really enjoy working with snakes, so I went in and turned in my resignation."

He said although it is still too early to know if a second season of the show will be filmed, he will be "content" with it only being a one-season series, if that is the decision of Animal Planet programming officials.

"I'm just in it to have a good time," he said. "I'm lucky that I get to do my hobby every day, and that, through these six episodes, I get to share it with the entire nation."

On the Net:

Animal Planet: http://animal.discovery.com

Southeastern Reptile Rescue: www.snakesareus.com