Texans get set to kill thousands of rattlesnakes in annual festival

Illustration for article titled Texans get set to kill thousands of rattlesnakes in annual festival

Thousands of snakes will be killed in the 56th Rattlesnake RoundUp this coming weekend in Sweetwater, Texas. It's a barbaric and environmentally reckless festival that's also startlingly reminiscent of a classic Simpson's episode.


It's the world's largest rattlesnake roundup (yes, there are others), and it was started as a way to control the over-population of rattlesnakes. And by "overpopulation" the locals are referring to those pesky snakes that predate on livestock. The event is extremely popular, drawing over 40,000 visitors a year. Attractions include wild rattlesnakes which are sold, displayed, and killed for food, or to create animals products such as snakeskin.

But to collect the snakes, organizers have to round them up first — a practice that involves spraying gas fumes into cracks and crevices in the ground to drive the snakes our from their dens. The groggy snakes are then delivered to the festival where they meet their fate.


Writing in Take Part, author Richard Conniff complains how nothing's being done to prevent it all from happening year after year:

The practice of gassing snakes, once common, is now regarded as barbaric even by the state's other rattlesnake roundups. More than 9,000 people supported the proposed ban during the state's yearlong round of research and public hearings. Apart from the question of cruelty, the argument against the practice is straightforward: Gasoline sprayed into the porous karst, or limestone, inevitably gets into groundwater, and that's bad news, as the Houston Press reported, "for anyone or anything—especially out in West Texas—who, you know, likes to drink water." Gassing also threatens other karst wildlife. Studies have found "dramatic and obvious" effects, from "short-term impairment to death" in snakes, lizards, toads, and other vertebrates living in and around rattlesnake denning sites. The gassing also kills many karst invertebrates listed as endangered or threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, among them the Comal Springs riffle beetle, the Bone Cave harvestman, and the Government Canyon Bat Cave spider.

In the face of overwhelming support from around the state, the Parks and Wildlife Commission decided to delay the vote. "I view it as total cowardice," one local conservationist remarked. The commissioners, who are unsalaried and serve at the pleasure of the governor, delayed the vote, the conservationist theorized, because "no one will do anything if it is going to upset anyone, anywhere," or at least not anywhere in Texas.

The commissioners may have wanted to avoid controversy ahead of this week's state legislative primaries. They may particularly have wanted to avoid raising a sensitive issue for Rep. Susan King, R-Abilene, who represents Sweetwater. King was the only person allowed to make a statement at the meeting at which the commission had been scheduled to vote on the gassing ban, and she delivered a rambling, disjointed, Sarah Palin–esque argument for doing nothing.

In its place, Conniff recommends the first annual Texas Rattlesnake festival, an event which aims to celebrate "the value of these amazing and beautiful animals and in which no snakes will be harmed or killed."

Regrettably, given the wild popularity of the RoundUp — and the money to be made — this festival isn't going away any time soon.


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Wow. Surprised it took this long for some liberals here to take a dump on something I have personal experience with.

Sweetwater was my hometown. Lived there for 18 years and had to deal with the RoundUp every year. Either selling stuff there for my Scout troop or just dealing with the huge amounts of people that flooded into town.

The RoundUp isn't evil or barbaric. It's just annoying. Tens of thousands of out-of-towners who have never seen a snake before going goo-goo gah-gah over overpriced trinkets and fried food.

I know it won't fit the agenda, but the truth is most snakes aren't caught by gassing. They're all over the place out there and they, like reptiles are designed to do, come out of their holes to warm themselves up. And it's atrociously hot in West TX even in March. So it isn't a problem. Do some snakes get gassed out? I'm sure they do. Guess what though. They're snakes. Reptiles. I.E. Not mammals. They don't have feelings. Yes, they feel pain, but they aren't your buddy who is glad to see you when you get home. The snakes at the RoundUp are gathered up, left together in a corral, and then quickly killed unless they're being milked for their venom. A venom which is highly valuable. It even is being used to kill cancer cells now. They aren't stringing up live snakes and torturing them.

And let's be honest, these snakes aren't endangered. They reproduce at a ridiculous rate, have few natural predators, and they KILL PEOPLE. I knew several people from school who had suffered snake bites and were lucky to not die/have their leg amputated. They also kill livestock. They do a phenomenal job getting rid of rodents and the culling of the rattlesnake population doesn't hamper this whatsoever.

These aren't intelligent whales or dolphins or cuddly dogs or cats that are being killed. It's a dangerous reptile. One that would end up being killed anyway because farmers, ranchers, and just people living out here aren't going to risk their kids getting bit.

I hate(d) the RoundUp because it was loud, dirty, and wrecked the town for a weekend. I can't stand the goofballs that join up with the Jaycees. That being said, the insults being thrown around like "barbaric" are just asinine.

And the charge that these events are destroying the rattlesnake population is just flat out wrong. The Sweetwater RoundUp which is the biggest anywhere only snags 1% of the rattlesnake population. 1%.

The largest rattlesnake round-up in the United States is held in Sweetwater, Texas. Held every year since 1958, the event currently attracts approximately 30,000 visitors per year and in 2006 each annual Round-Up was said to result in the capture of 1% of the state's rattlesnake population.[1]