Rattlesnake roundups

The "rattlesnake roundup" stands in contrast to these efforts at conservation. Rattlesnake roundups are unique in the United States in that they are permitted to continue regardless of the serious impact they inflict on habitat and snake populations. Although they are widely publicized, rattlesnake roundups are held in very few states. They are run each spring by private organizations in small, otherwise insignificant towns as a way of making money. The most harmful ones are staged by private organizations in Texas, Georgia, Alabama, and Kansas.

Huge numbers of snakes (as many as 5,000 by some estimates) are taken each year at roundups. Visitors leave these events with the impression that killing snakes is good and that doing so should be promoted, because it is a major means of protecting the public from harm from rattlesnakes. Under the guise of education, patently dangerous demonstrations of free handling and other perilous acts are presented. Reckless participants who are bitten in the "quick bagging" competition,

An elderly participant at a Fundamentalist Appalachian Church holds a timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) aloft as a sign of his commitment. He stands, nearly entranced, having been consumed in his belief that by holding the venomous snake he is overcoming evil. The intense state and "taking up of serpents" comes after considerable communal praying, chanting, and dancing. It is only after he has been "anointed by the Holy Spirit" that he has the strength for the confrontation. (Photo by Manny Rubio. Reproduced by permission.)

An elderly participant at a Fundamentalist Appalachian Church holds a timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) aloft as a sign of his commitment. He stands, nearly entranced, having been consumed in his belief that by holding the venomous snake he is overcoming evil. The intense state and "taking up of serpents" comes after considerable communal praying, chanting, and dancing. It is only after he has been "anointed by the Holy Spirit" that he has the strength for the confrontation. (Photo by Manny Rubio. Reproduced by permission.)

where snakes are grabbed freehand and stuffed into sacks, receive the coveted "White Fang" award and necessary medical attention. This so-called honor has been bestowed on as many as 30 contestants in a single year.

The snakes, nearly all eastern diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus adamanteus) in Georgia and Alabama, western diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) in Texas, and prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis) in Kansas, are mistreated from the moment of their capture. The unspoken rationale is that they will be killed anyway.

At the event, the snakes are weighed, pinned with a hook, stretched to be measured, milked of venom, and placed in a trash can. When the can is filled with snakes, it is taken to a pen, where the snakes are dumped out, piled on one another. They bite each other, and many catch or break their fangs in the wire mesh or strike the transparent plastic sides of the enclosure. A number of them die in the snake pit from this mistreatment. At a few Texas events the snake's future is ended onsite. For $5.00 an attendee can chop the head off a restrained live snake. Hundreds of others are beheaded, strung up, skinned while still writhing, gutted, filleted, and deep-fried. A few more dollars buys a meal of freshly fried rattlesnake, coleslaw, and cornbread. All the other snakes are sold to one of several specialty butchers (for as much as $12.00 a foot) who slaughter them, producing meat, skins, heads, and rattles. After tanning, the skins are turned into wallets, belts and buckles, boots, vests, skirts, bikinis, and an array of curios. Some snakes are freeze-dried in a defensive position with the mouth agape and fangs erect and sold for $100 or more in gift shops.

Frequently, rattlesnakes destined for these events are taken from dens and hibernacula during the winter. Once a den entrance is located, gasoline is poured through a long flexible tube and forced into the depths of the hibernaculum, creating lethal fumes that drive the snakes to the surface, where they are captured. The 80 or so forms of animal life that have been recorded to cohabit in these retreats likely also become disoriented and suffocate. No one knows how or even if the noxious fumes dissipate, but the niche remains uninhabitable during this time. Rattlesnake roundups are flagrant examples of reptile exploitation at its worst. If any other animals were the brunt of these unconscionable acts (e.g., rabbits, feral dogs or cats), the roundups would be banned without delay.

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