Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Claxton and Sweetwater: A Comparison
Well, against tremendous odds, I made it to Claxton. How I actually got there is a long story filled with empty promises, broken dreams and last minute betrayals and is an insane story all in of itself. One day, it may be told but there is no reason to right now, there are more important matters to discuss, such as the Rattlesnake Roundups in Texas and Georgia. These three were known to be among of the bloodiest spectacles to take place in the Deep South in the name of “family entertainment” and it was this year that they were changed forever.
The towns of Sweetwater, Texas and Claxton, Georgia: those are what we are going to be looking at for our purposes today. We have plenty of footage from both.
Sweetwater has become gravely paranoid in response to new negative publicity and the declaration of Danny Mendez that he would personally attend with photographer and biology student, Sky Stevens, in order to document the cruelty displayed there. Danny describes the act of decapitation in one of the videos perfectly on his weekly radio show “Urban Jungles Radio” at about 23 minutes into the program. Unfortunately, before Danny and Sky were able to enter the roundup they were stopped by the Sheriff and several deputies. They were then issued a criminal citation and told that they could not come back to the roundup or attend any of the other local Jaycees events.
Danny and Sky's invitation to leave
And here is the link to the show itself:
Sweetwater Roundup---Holocaust on Rattlesnakes
What Sweetwater did not count on were other people with cell phones and video cameras, ones that did not necessarily support their gory festival, getting in and documenting what went on. Ray Autry, who is a concerned wildlife enthusiast and noted member of the group Rise Against Rattlesnake Roundups, managed to gain entry and film some of the more gruesome events of the roundup. The links will take you to the radio broadcast and the videos.
Public Video---Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup
Meanwhile, I managed to get to Claxton, which garnered a good deal of publicity for their change from a rattlesnake roundup to a wildlife festival that teaches children about the importance of nature and the place that snakes, including rattlesnakes, have in the ecosystem. Here are some pictures and videos of what happened on the weekend of the 10th and 11th of March.
Instead of capturing wild rattlesnakes as the vast majority of the roundups do (even the no-kill roundups), the newly christened Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival borrowed snakes from wildlife rescues and private collection. Throughout events leading up to the roundup I had a chance to discuss the matter with one of the rescuers that volunteered use of his snakes so that the reformation could be successful. Jason Clarke of Southeaster Reptile Rescue willingly let his snakes be used as part of the show, provided that they were not used in any of the demonstration shows or handled anymore than necessary. Although some rattlesnakes were used for demonstration none were permanently harmed and, as far as I could tell, these shows did not last very long at all. I only arrived in time to see the closing of the second to last “snake show” where some of the rattlesnakes were handled (but not Mr. Clarke’s); the final show after that used no snakes other than a kingsnake that was simply held for show. Here are some videos and photos from Claxton, I will let the readers decide how well these snakes were treated but please keep in mind that just one year ago every snake seen here would be slaughtered for the sake of the weekend festivities.
Claxton, GA Wildlife Festival
Claxton, GA Wildlife Festival Video #2
Claxton, GA Wildlife Festival Video #3
Although I was unable to actually meet with Jason Clarke in person I did keep an eye on his animals to the best of my abilities and when I called him after returning home to Pennsylvania he confirmed that every one of his snakes made it home no worse for the wear. Talking with several of the vendors and groundskeepers at Georgia confirmed that the numbers either matched or beat those of the previous years. Overall I would say that the new festival was a huge success in converting the slaughter of thousands of wild animals to celebrating their existence and acknowledging their place in nature. Sweetwater could learn a valuable lesson from this.
Bob Irwin weighs in