The Snake Guy: A love for animals

On April 28, 2014

“Snakes in a quad” became a regular phrase while Cole Harken, a sophomore wildlife ecology and management major of Conway, lived on-campus with his beloved reptiles.

Building Three on NorthPark Quads had no idea what would be moving in alongside one of their newest residents last fall.

“I knew I could keep them in our herpetology range in the lab science building,” Harken said. “I preferred to keep them in my place, though, so they would be easier to access and take care of.”

Harken housed 10 snakes in his room and said he used them for educational shows.

“Otherwise, I would just let them all go,” he said.

Word spread about the snakes throughout the semester, and Harken’s RA became aware of the situation. His neighbors, however, also were very aware.

“One night, people started beating on my wall at one in the morning,” Harken said. “They wanted me to come out and talk about the snakes, but I just stayed in my room and never answered the door.”

The next day Harken e-mailed his RA telling him about the snakes and promised to relocate them to the herpetology range, where they are now safely homed.

Harken is no amateur when it comes to caring for nature, though. Harken grew up on Lake Conway where he was able to spend most of his time fishing or exploring nature.

“I have always loved to fish, and there is a lot of biodiversity on the lake,” Harken said. “When I wasn’t on the lake, I would be in the field busting through rotten logs, digging in the dirt and flipping over rocks to see what critters I might find.”

He spent the rest of his time indoors watching National Geographic and other television shows about nature and wildlife. He also enjoyed reading books and magazines on the same topic.

“I had this one book with a ton of different animals in it, and my goal was to know every one of them and something about their natural history,” Harken said. “I wore the cover off of that book.”

Harken also loves art and enjoys drawing and painting animals and nature. His favorite animal that he has worked with is an alligator snapping turtle.

“They are the most interesting animal to work with around here,” Harken said. “They are a species of special concern, and I am on a permit to handle and possess them.”

His girlfriend, sophomore communication disorders major Olivia Peek of Pine Bluff, is well acquainted with his passion for animals.

“He’s crazy about them,” Peek said. She also learned to enjoy his critter friends, even having a favorite snake among his room’s occupants. “You know the old saying, red and black, friend of Jack? It was one of those. It was about 8 inches long, and it was my favorite.”

Peek said she was never a big fan of the reptile world before meeting Cole. “At that time, he also had three leopard geckos and a three-foot lizard,” she said. “I still don’t have a problem with scaly things, so that’s a good thing.”

Harken’s passion may derive from his family, whom are also animal loves.

“My family has operated a non-profit animal rescue since 2008,” Harken said. “It is primarily a dog rescue. We take in abandoned, abused, and washed up dogs and puppies, and we rehome them.”

Harken is now involved in clubs on campus to satisfy his passion for wildlife in a way that is less invasive to his quad-mates. He is a member of The Natural History Collections Curation Club (NHC3), The Wildlife and Fisheries Club, and the Marine Biology Club.

“We do local outreach events and participate in community service for each club,” he said. “Most of the same people are in these clubs, so we have a lot of good times together.”

Participating in these clubs has allowed Harken and members to learn and experience wildlife while in college. They take care of preserved animal collections, have created an emu skeleton and compete at the Wildlife Conclave. They also make display pieces for the lab science building.

He has other interests besides wildlife, though. Harken was very involved in sports and was in a bowling league for 10 years, and played baseball until he graduated high school.

He plans to have a career in a wildlife management practice and continue following his passion for nature.

“My dream job is to have a television show,” Harken said. “I would drop the whole wildlife thing and call, play-by-play, major league baseball games, though.”

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