Sunday, August 5, 2012

Let's Bring A Stop to Rattlesnake Roundups

Rattlesnake Round-ups have received a lot of publicity as of late, most of it in a negative light. There is reason for this; as we have learned that the practice of rounding up rattlesnakes and killing them in the name of protecting the general public is an outdated practice at best and cruel at its worst. There is no documentation that supports the need to carry out a practice of killing rattlesnakes in large numbers to protect an unsuspecting population is necessary. Most rattlesnakes are removed from areas where few if any humans live, therefore confrontation between humans and rattlesnakes are at a minimum. Yet the individuals who participate in this outdated practice will defend their right to do so and use false information to justify it.

Rattlesnake roundups began in Okeene,Oklahoma as early as 1939 and are still carried on as a tradition in this town. Rattlesnake round-ups spread like wildfire through many of the southern states as well as a few eastern states, including Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Pennsylvania. Rattlesnake roundups were originally started as a way to control what was considered an over population of a potentially deadly animal. Settlers feared for their families, and their livestock. Many individuals would regularly capture, kill and bury rattlesnakes in mass graves that often contained 1,000's of snakes. Some areas even encouraged shoot-outs among marksmen where they would test their skills with a gun by shooting rattlesnakes. They competed for prize money and many 1'000's of snakes were killed in this manner. The last known town to participate in this practice was Clairemont, Texas. Fortunately this practice has ceased with the last competition being held in 1989. Now if we can just convince the remaining rattlesnake round-ups to cease their practices of torturing, maiming and killing rattlesnakes in the name of sport.

So what exactly goes on at a rattlesnake round-up?

 The few remaining round-ups are held once a year and these festivals are often sponsored by groups such as the Jaycee's or Optimist Clubs of the town. Over the years the proceeds of these roundups have been used to fund various charities. This in and of itself is a commendable, but what many fail to realize is the atrocities that take place at these events. Rattlesnakes are often gathered months in advance of the festival, and are kept without food or adequate water. Many are kept in small containers and never allowed out of their captive situation until the day of the festival. Those that survive this treatment will be put on display at the roundup. They are thrown into a large pit, piled on top of each other and then kicked around by round-uppers.

Then once at the festival, the real horror begins. At a few of the roundups the snakes are frozen for up to two hours in order to slow their reflexes to make them easier to handle. Then they have their fangs pulled out with pliers and their mouths sewn shut. It is these snakes that are passed around for photo opportunities with the public. Want your picture taken with a "deadly rattlesnake?" This is your chance. Does it make you feel brave or daring to hold something this lethal in your arms and have your picture taken with it? This sewn up tortured version of a rattlesnake is nothing but a shell of its former glory. These snakes are near death from stress and you still feel brave?

Check out this video footage of what REALLY happens to these snakes All Sewn UP

 Eventually the snake WILL die from his treatment and then his humiliation is far from over as he will now be transferred to the killing floor and have his head chopped off with a dull machete and passed around for the audience to witness how their nervous system still allows the snake to flick its tongue in and out. They will also cut its heart out and show the audience how it will continue to beat even after death. Why is this necessary? What twisted enjoyment does a person get from this practice? Many roundups even allow audience members to decapitate and skin their own snake, and once you've shown your courage in committing such a feat you are then encouraged to soak your hand in the blood of the snake and leave your bloody palm print on the wall for all to witness.

The practice of removing these snakes from the wild is highly questionable, as many will use gasoline to pour down rodent burrows to encourage the snake to leave the burrow. What round uppers fail to consider is the wildlife that is often sharing that same burrow with the snake. Animals such as the endangered gopher tortoise as well as other turtles are not as quick to respond and leave the now suffocating burrow and will perish in the fumes within the burrow. Many other animals, such as various toads will also die from asphyxiation within the burrows when they are overcome with fumes. This practice is illegal but never enforced. Many other snakes are captured as they come out of hibernation. Round uppers locate hibernation sites and monitor those sites and when early spring returns they descend on those locations like vultures at an all-you-can eat roadkill buffet. As the snakes move closer to the entrance of these hibernaculums they will capture vast amounts of snakes and place them in bags, or other containers.  Some are transported to people who purchase the snakes for meat and they are paid so much per pound. The majority however are destined to end up at the roundups still alive.

These round-ups have been going on for over 60 years and each year 1,000's of snakes are removed from the wild. And each year the snakes are becoming harder and harder to locate, this should tell us that the snakes population is falling. In some areas the number of snakes have fallen so dramatically that they are considered extirpated from those areas. Most round-uppers now travel over large areas to try and locate snakes to supply the round-ups and many will cross state lines and bring snakes in from other states where it is illegal to capture, or harm these snakes. Often rattlesnake round-ups award prize money to the largest snake brought into the event. So there is good reason to seek out large snakes, and if those snakes can no longer be found within their own area, they will take them from other areas, legally or illegally, it seems to make no difference.

 While I am able to understand that the small towns that host these round-ups depend on the revenue that they bring in. I also understand that charities benefit from the proceeds donated to them from the round-ups. In fact many of us on the forefront trying to bring about changes to these events, fully understand the financial needs of these towns. We in no way want to keep money out of the towns or away from the charities. But we also know there is a better way. We can change these events into an educational event that honors the snake for the icon that it is. No where else in the world do these snakes occur than in the western hemisphere. The western diamondback, which is the snake most frequently targeted is SYNONYMOUS with the wild west and Indian legends. Native Americans have traditionally honored the rattlesnake and held them in high esteem. We should be ashamed of ourselves as a race for destroying something so revered.

Why should we care? What good are rattlesnakes?

Rattlesnakes are one of the most effective predators in existence. They come equipped with venom and a delivery system that is extremely efficient. They come further equipped with heat sensing pits located between their nostrils and mouth. These pits allow them to locate warm blooded prey, even in total darkness. The venom is designed to subdue their prey. The venom acts quickly and also begins the digestion process. The snake is able to locate their prey by flicking their tongue in and out of their mouth. They scrape their tongue across an organ in the roof of their mouth called a Jacobson's organ. This organ is extremely sensitive to scent and will communicate to the snake where food is. They are excellent at controlling rodents in a given area and do so with such efficiency that they are likely to out compete other snakes. Rodents carry many diseases including hanta virus and the plague. Before you begin to think that the plague, or black death as it is often called is a disease from our ancient past, take a look at this photo. We are seeing an increase in incidences of plague and this in direct proportion to the absence of snakes. We as an educated society need to learn to respect our wild animals, even if they come in a form we are not comfortable with or that we perhaps fear. Fear is never justification for killing another animal. Hatred is never a reason to kill another animal. Lack of understanding or tolerance is never a good reason to kill.

 I mentioned above the importance these snakes have in controlling wayward rodent populations, but did you know they are important to humans for an entirely different reason? They provide treatments and cures for many diseases affecting humans. The venom is used to make many medications to treat vast amounts of diseases including diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and blood clots. Without the snake we lose the venom that is used to make the medications that is making life tolerable for many humans.

It is past time for a change, for if we do not make those changes the western diamondback, and the eastern diamondback will be an animal of myth and mystery rather than a reality. These animals cannot survive the onslaught of habitat destruction and human persecution forever. Sooner or later they will go the way of the Do-Do and we will have no one to blame but ourselves. We are all able to recognize that these events called roundups in their current form are cruel and serve no real purpose other than to entertain a misinformed public. I have to question anyone who gets enjoyment out of the torment and torture of an innocent animal. If the animal in question was a dog or cat the outpouring of support and outrage would be unprecedented. Lets all rise up against these events and show the organizers that they do not have to kill in order to bring money into their towns. They don't have to treat these animals with cruelty in order to educate.

View the following videos then consider joining the facebook page Rise Against Rattlesnake Roundups (RARR) to share your commitment to conserving these vitally important components to the ecosystem that we call rattlesnakes.

Orry Martin talks on Roundups
World's Largest Rattlesnake Roundup
Don't Lose Your Head


  1. Thank you Shelly for putting together a well-written description of rattlesnake roundups with an appropriate amount of gore (and no more). Now I have something I can link to for more info on these horrible events! You might want to add a link to the RARR facebook page too.

  2. Rattlesnake roundups are appalling. I am an undergraduate at Ball State University in Muncie, IN and am looking to go to graduate school for rattlesnake research. Many times I have been asked why I want to study rattlesnakes and why are they important. Most people respond to my answer with ignorance and reply that they all should be dead. I have had a elementary school counselor and even a fellow wildlife biologist make this claim. It is a shame that people with authority over our young generation are so misinformed. It makes me sick to think that people truly hate snakes simply because they don't understand them.

  3. That now on top of this the animal planet channel has come up with this stupid program about mass slaughter of rattle snakes ????? I can't believe the direction this channel is taking for the sake of making blood money.Bring back theh Steve Irwin days when he showed the world the true beauty of all living creatures.

  4. I think we need to go after these appalling roundups like we did the cat juggling festivals. You don't see those around anymore.

  5. I think we should go after those appalling snake roundups just like we did the cat juggling festivals. You don't see those around anymore.