Snake Charmer

The picture above was my first encounter with a real snake – albeit not at a rattlesnake rodeo. We were on a family Florida trip. I felt uneasy posing with this pet, yet smiled anyway. In this moment, I learned that I could feel uneasy and safe, as long as I treated this animal with respect. It was 1977. I was 6 years old. I still remember at 42.

That a snake moves like a fish on land is utterly foreign to our human experience. Our inability to relate is what makes snakes both fascinating and unnerving. Add a rattle to that tail and we move from unnerved to fearful.

Heroism requires battling instinctual fear to perform a greater good. But we must first understand what that greater good is. Today, I ask rattlesnake rodeo hunters and festival attendees to re-examine their definition. I ask you to help them see another side.

Welcome to the Rattlesnake Rodeo

Rattlesnake Round-up: Eastern diamondback rattlesnake courtesy Wikimedia Commons - Tad Arensmeier

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake courtesy Wikimedia Commons – Tad Arensmeier

The main attraction at Rattlesnake Rodeos, also known as Rattlesnake Round-Ups, are wild caught rattlesnakes displayed, killed for food, and sold to create animal products. The snakes are also drained of their venom for anti-venom serum and every other part of the snake is used for something. You’ll find these events popular in the rural Midwest and Southern United States.

When you back the lens out far enough, the rattlesnake hunt appears to be no different than responsible deer hunt or the quest for a wild caught fish. The creature lives a wild, free life until their swift end comes as humanely as possible. A cultural celebration akin to the Native Americans’ should deliver thanks to the spirits for the gift of a good hunt and human survival. This is all an act of respect, right?

Then why are a snake’s teeth ripped out with pliers while it is still alive?

Bastardization of a Celebration

In preparation for a Rattlesnake Rodeo, rattlers are either gassed out of their holes (with fumes harming turtles, small mammals and the environment) or pulled out by a metal hook – which sometimes punctures the snake’s body or head. They are then thrown into a display pit, sometimes injured but still alive, and kicked around for the sake of entertainment. But wait. There’s more.

  • After being frozen to slow the snake’s reflexes, teeth are pulled out and their mouths sewn shut so that people can parade around with a live Diamondback for a picture, until it dies and another is tortured in its place.
  • When the snakes are beheaded, their tongues still flick as their killers parade around with their heads on a stick. Why? The nerves can be responsive for hours, which means pain sensors are still active and attached to their brains.
  • Snake hearts are cut out to show how they still beat independent of the snake’s body.
  • Adding insult to deadly injury, the blood of thousands of snakes is drained into a bucket where parents teach children to reach in, giggling, so they can mark a wall with bloody hand prints.
  • Venom collection in the name of a good cause is rendered unusable because the collection process is not sterile.
  • And then there is the species endangerment, as the “Position of The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists Concerning Rattlesnake Conservation and Roundups” reads:

The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, an international society of about 2,000 professional scientists who specialize in the biology and conservation of fishes,amphibians, and reptiles, strongly opposes traditional rattlesnake roundups. Such roundups promote overexploitation of natural populations of wildlife, unnecessary killing and inhumane treatment of individual animals, degradation of habitat, and promotion of outdated attitudes toward important elements of America’s natural heritage. Found nowhere but in the Americas, and especially diverse in the United States, the more than thirty species of rattlesnakes comprise a distinctive component of North America’s biodiversity, and one that is increasingly imperiled.

Why Do It? Big Fear Brings Big Money.

The largest Rattlesnake Round-Up event in the United States is held in Sweetwater, Texas, complete with cash prizes and trophies. Attendance is based on slaying a fearsome dragon and, according to Wikipedia, “The events often attract thousands of tourists, which can bring hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue into small towns; the Sweetwater Round-Up’s economic impact was estimated to exceed US$5 million in 2006.”

So how do we combat that?

Against Rattlesnake Round-ups: Orr y Martin, Texas Snake Hunter

Keep the Festival.
Change the Focus!

Orry Martin, The Texas Snake Hunter, has hunted snakes most of his life – with a camera. High school Biology teacher by day, Orry educates about rattlesnake torture at reptile expos and beyond.

In the following short film, Orry talks about the reality of snakes in the wild and dispels judgment rooted in quick-cash sensationalism stemming from Round-Ups calling rattlers, as Animal Planet does, “the most dangerous creatures on the planet.”

How interesting that. like Orry, National Geographic says:

Feared as deadly and aggressive, diamondbacks are actually highly averse to human contact and only attack in defense. Most bites occur when humans taunt or try to capture or kill a rattlesnake.

Follow Orry’s advice. “Educate. Not Eradicate.” Rattlesnakes are highly important to human health. Controlling the rodent population, they are responsible for keeping human contracted disease at bay. Instances of hantavirus and plague rise in direct proportion to the absence of snakes. And, without the rattlesnakes, we will no longer have the venom used to make medications that treat diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and blood clots. Let’s celebrate that.


ROCK a NEW Kind of Rattlesnake Rodeo!

Rather than outlaw the Rattlesnake Round-Ups, ask them to teach the importance of conservation and to share real facts. There are no-kill Round-Ups in existence. They impose catch size restrictions and require the release of captured snakes back into the wild. We need the rest to be like them, offering education that isn’t based in fear. Urge Round-Up sponsors to convert the remaining roundups into wildlife-friendly and educational festivals!


TAKE ACTION on behalf of Rattlesnakes.
Sign the Center for Biological Diversity petition!

Center for Biological Diversity

Even if snakes unnerve you, smile and sign the petition anyway. You’ll help a fellow creature live a life of dignity, something we all deserve no matter how misunderstood we are – something we should teach our children that they’ll remember for a lifetime.


Blog the Change for AnimalsThis post is part of Blog the Change, an event hosted by asking us to share a cause near and dear to our hearts. Blog, read and BE the change for animals!