Editor’s Choice Award: 2015 Special Recognition – Myke Clarkson

Feb 22, 2016
The Reptile Report
by Judy Clothier

The Reptile Report - It’s my honor and pleasure to announce the winners in our special 2015 Editor’s Choice categories. More special categories winners will come on Wednesday, Feb 24th, and all the primary category winners for Editor’s Choice will be announced on Thursday, Feb 25th. Reader’s Choice winners are coming on Monday, Feb 29th, so hold on to your seats for more exciting news coming soon!

New for 2015 is our Special Recognition Award, going to two individuals for their amazing and tireless work at RAACA (Reptile and Amphibian Charity Auctions). So far, RAACA has raised an astonishing $317,609, with $275,903 going directly to USARK. Congratulations, Myke Clarkson, and thank you for your hard work, innovation, and dedication!

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I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I became fascinated by reptiles, but I imagine it was very early in my childhood, growing up in the desert of Hesperia, California. Frankly, there wasn’t much around my house as a kid except for horned lizards, coyotes, and tumbleweeds. The coyotes never wanted to play and the tumbleweeds had thorns—leaving Phrynosoma (horned lizards). Around elementary age, my parents realized the only way to get me to read was to cart me to the library and rent reptile books…my nerd showed early and never let up. I don’t usually have any clue who is on the current music top 40 charts or what football team is going to the World Series, but if you want to chat about convergent evolution between fossorial centipede-eating colubrids—we can talk for hours.

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To pay for books, cameras, feeders, antique snakebite kits, and all of life’s other essentials, I am a Television Producer specializing in natural history programs. This job is ideal for someone who loves field herping. My work pays me to travel place to place for filming, which is often in great herping habitat, and rarely takes place at night. Once the sun has set, I am off photographing herps in the wild, which is my absolute personal paradise. Lots of great stories have come from these little trips and eventually I swear I will write them out in one form or another—maybe.

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When I am not knee-deep in mud, chasing some musk-happy snake, I maintain (with the help of my beautiful assistant curator/wife Becca) a little menagerie of obscure creatures. I have always had a passion for fully aquatic snakes and odd-ball colubrids like psammophis, mehelya, boiga and ahaetulla.

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From the USARK fundraiser “WOAH: Women of American Herpetoculture” to my time working on the RAACA Auction team, it seems I am almost constantly busy with herp community projects.

RAACA was one of the more rewarding projects I have worked on to date, but not just because of the financial success it brought to USARK and Forever Wild. One of the aspects I loved about RAACA was the community unification. RAACA was a gathering of over 10,000 like-minded people giving their hard earned money and precious time to a cause they believed in. Of course it was a team effort, and I would be remiss if I did not mention the team. So really the whole RAACA team: my wife Rebecca, Erick and Erin Briggs, Houssam Istanbouli, Cameron Lamb, Linda Davison, and of course the Russells are the recipients of this recognition as well. Plus the donors, who generously gave so much, and the bidders who bid not to get a deal, but to make an impact—here’s to you.

I truly believe that unless we want to be the last generation of captive reptile propagators, we all need to do a lot more positive, not just trash talk one another online. Self-policing within the reptile community, taking personal responsibility for the animals we enjoy, impeccable care standards no one could ever question, being in tune with and active in the issues of your area—these are the things we can, and should, be doing right now.

Forever Wild was one of the first projects RAACA supported, and is an organization which I have invested more time in this year as a board member. Joel and Chemaine’s rescue in Phelan, CA gives homes to animals that are often unwanted or, even worse, seized by officials for a variety of reasons. If not for them all of the creatures they have given homes to would likely have been euthanized. It is a second chance for these lives; a second chance that they would not have had if not for Forever Wild. In addition to big cats, they maintain a reptile collection and a handful of birds. It’s truly a worthwhile cause and worth a visit.

Conservation has gradually taken a larger role in my life and grown into an issue of high importance for me. The more I travel, the bigger a passion it’s become. I am the current president of HCI: Herpetological Conservation International, a non-profit reptile conservation organization, which is working to protect critical habitat for endangered herp species. Our first effort is Project Pondo, and we are all very proud to say we are getting close to being able to make our dream a reality– creating the world’s first Chameleon-centric wildlife preserve.

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I have plans to write more in the future, work on some non-profit educational wildlife documentaries in foreign languages, and a whole slew of “eventual” projects…not to mention plenty of long nights road cruising with good friends while chugging Monsters, blaring Slipknot, and meeting curious creatures.

— Myke Clarkson

USARK