At the Zoo: Reptile presentation bares fangs on Grounds – The Cavalier Daily

Freedom of speech is once again the topic of contentious debate on Grounds after a controversial reptile presentation took place in Old Cabell Hall last week. The hotly-debated animal showcase was conducted by Mike’s Pets, a traveling science assembly program dedicated to introducing young learners to herpetology — the study of amphibians and reptiles — and was hosted by the Youthful Amphibian Fans, a CIO on Grounds with the stated mission of promoting zoological values ​​at the University.

Opposition to the reptile exhibition began almost immediately after the Youthful Amphibian Fans announced the event during Spring Break in early March, with some members of the student body pointing out that Mike, the owner of Mike’s Pets, has a long history of his animals injuring audience members.

Indeed, in past expositions conducted by Mike, volunteer participants suffered various reptile-based incidents ranging in intensity from moderate to severe to just downright confusing. These include rashes left on participants’ hands by poisonous frogs, puncture wounds from horned lizards and baby alligator bites that broke skin. There was also the widely reported incident last year when, in a presentation delivered by Mike’s former boss, one audience member was nearly strangled by a common boa snake when the animals escaped from their habitats and terrorized the crowd.

Mike has declined to comment on the incident, although his former boss maintains that he did not intentionally leave the animals’ cage doors unlocked and open.

Prior to the event, the Editorial Board of The Cavalier Daily wrote that they did not condone platforming Mike’s Pets, questioning whether the animal showcase qualified as a valid contribution to the “premise of ‘diversity of wildlife’” on Grounds. “Dangerous reptiles are not entitled to their own educational showcase,” the board wrote, “Creepy, crawly creatures that threaten student safety are unjustifiable.”

In defense of Mike’s Pets, the Youthful Amphibian Fans characterized the presentation as a response to the unseasonably cold weather Charlottesville experienced earlier this spring, heralding the event as addressing a “climate that has grown to be nearly inhospitable to cold-blooded creatures.” A representative of Youthful Amphibian Fans said that “Mr. Jefferson would be proud of us for bringing reptiles to Grounds,” referring, of course, to the third president’s famous declaration of an individual’s inherent rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of exotic animals.”

The University’s students, ever-dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, dutifully made their way to Old Cabell Hall on Tuesday, with some eager learners praising the event as “something to do” and “a way to skip class.” Others were more resolute in their opinions regarding the animal showcase. “If I want to go see Mike’s Pets, and I end up getting bit by a snake and say, turn into some sort of snake-man, well that’s my prerogative as an American,” said second year Tom Cottonmouth, wearing a “Don ‘t Tread On Me” T-Shirt, which notably displayed a snake being chopped up into pieces.

“The problem for me,” said third year Camila Hares, “is that, while I’m not afraid of snakes myself, a lot of my friends own pet mice. And it just seems needlessly dangerous to put the mice in such close proximity to their natural predators.”

First year Kevin McGarter was one of the few students who arrived at the reptile showcase with an impartial perspective, saying that he was “excited to learn.” However, McGarter changed his tone after attending the exhibition, calling the animals that were presented “unpleasantly slimy.” He also noted that, overall, the reptiles in the show were “pretty boring.” “Most of the animals seemed to be unconscious,” he said, “Mike kept talking about how important it was for the reptiles to ‘stay asleep’ and how dangerous it is for them to be ‘woke’.”

This is not the first instance in which Mike has railed against the thought of waking animals up. At a similar showcase at Stanford University in February, he referred to people who try to rouse other living creatures to a state of basic consciousness as “the radical pests.”

Ultimately, the reptile showcase proceeded without incident or injury, although Mike did devote a significant portion of his presentation to a discussion of animal safety. Oddly, it was the rest of the animal kingdom, rather than the reptiles on display, that Mike said represented the greatest threat to University. “These reptiles are not venomous,” Mike alleged, “The real danger is people who want to keep predators away from their prey. That’s the true poison here. And the antidote to that poison is freedom. All animals should be free all the time in order to let natural selection run its course.”

It is worth noting that, despite his reference to Darwinism, Mike is a creationist.

“I don’t know,” said fourth year Bernie Panthers after the showcase, “it seemed to me that there was a lot of talk about the importance of reptiles having their ‘freedom’ for a presentation that focused on showing off animals in cages .”

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