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Snake Whacking Days.
March 14, 2012 3:49 PM   Subscribe

Last weekend, the annual Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup took place in Sweetwater Texas, as it has since 1958. Previously 1, Previously 2, plus on the Simpsons. Sponsored by the Jaycess, it attracts a huge crowd and lots of press, but when Danny Mendez, a zoologist and host of Urban Jungles Radio showed up to see for himself what it was like, he was refused entry and given a citation for Criminal Trespassing. What sort of issues would a zoologist be concerned about and why the Sweetwater Jaycees not want Danny (as well as Sky Stevens, a Texas biology student, Wildlife enthusiast and contributor to the show) not to even enter to see a beauty pageant?

The reason the roundup were the perceived threat against humans and livestock, hte reason it continues is not so clear. Danny Mendez points out in his 90 minute follow up show that while snakes are weighed and counted, the data collected is actually meaningless without any information about where the snakes came from or what a normal population is. Snakes, which are gassed out of their dens, though Texas Parks and Wildlife are considering a ban on gassing and has answers questions about it here.

This year's bubble might have been in rattlesnake prices, because the price per snake jumped to $9 a pound, as opposed to the $3 a pound 2 years ago. The drought in Texas has led to an even further decline in population, and even Sweetwater Jaycees say that they had 1,664 pounds of rattlesnakes this year, a drop of 177 pounds from the year before; well below the average haul of 4,000 pounds. In his podcast, Danny speculates on if something else were to spread among the rattlesnake population, it could wipe them out.

Venom is collected from the snakes for the crowd, which may or may not be used for anti-venom. NPR profiled Ken Darnell, a snake milker who works at roundups (who himself does not like that the snakes are killed), but the conditions are not sanitary, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department points out that most rattlesnake venom used in medical research is produced by laboratories that have their own snakes, and the current supply they produce far exceeds the demand.

Other issues that come up are is this cruel, and is this the kind of science education kids (and adults) should have, even in entertainment? Other animals have protections that say they must be treated humanely; snakes for roundups are collected sometimes weeks in advance and they are piled together in pits, having to be turned so they don't suffocate. Kids can hold a still beating heart, or see how snakes will still flick a tongue after being killed, or after skinning a snake, they can put their bloody handprint on the wall.

For the Love of Nature, a educational outreach program in Abilene Texas, points out that children spend 90% of their time indoors, so this really might be the oneconnection to nature and wildlife some kids experience The Children and Nature Network, which focuses connecting children and families and communities to nature, run programs all over Texas, but so far none near Sweetwater.

Back to the beauties. The roundup opens with a pageant to crown Miss Snake Charmer, which previous winners claimed was the best experience of their life, even it invokes having to "hold a machete elegantly" and "chop heads off with grace." Laney Wallace, Miss Snake Charmer 2011, says the key to winning is to be a lady, "Someone with talent grace, who is politce and social. But not too social."

Danny Mendez has one final complaint. At the end of his podcast, he calls on the Humane Society of the United States and PETA do take some action. He feels like organizations like these have been focusing on banning snakes from responsible owners, while thousands of wild animals are being lost for entertainment. Rise Up Against Rattlesnake Roundups, which documents roundups in videos and pictures, says while they have reached out to PETA, none has ever responded, except to ask for a donation.
posted by katinka-katinka (31 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
WTF?!?!? Seriously, I thought a snake whacking day was just a made up thing for a Simpsons episode.

We are doomed. Doomed.
posted by awfurby at 4:02 PM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sometimes the snake gets one in, though. I also root for the bulls in Spain.
posted by jquinby at 4:14 PM on March 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


...which documents roundups in videos and pictures, says while they have reached out to PETA, none has ever responded, except to ask for a donation.

Are you kidding me? That's not the Peta I know. (Self-Link)

I know other people that have written Peta and they get letters back every time that actually address the issues in the sender's letter.

Also, the subject matter of this post is a bit beyond the pale. Next snake that bites a person, well, I am going to shake that snake's...oh never mind.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:20 PM on March 14, 2012


My husband's great great grandfather made his living, part of the year, killing rattlesnakes. Pull 'em out of the den, club them presumably dead, then throw them down the hill to where my husband's dad...who was about 9 at the time...was supposed to cut off the rattles and throw them in a bag. And hope they were really dead first.

And even he, understandably no snake lover ever since, thinks this roundup shit is cruel.
posted by emjaybee at 4:25 PM on March 14, 2012


That's not very Barry White of them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:31 PM on March 14, 2012


My favorite part about this: A popular method of finding snakes is to whack bushes until you hear a rattle, then kill whatever's within. Think evolution, people: What happens if you kill every snake that rattles in response to disturbance?

That's right. We are breeding snakes that don't rattle. They still strike, though!
posted by agentofselection at 4:39 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, yeah, and I'll call eponysterical on myself.
posted by agentofselection at 4:39 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sick fucks.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:30 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Seriously, this "have dominion over the fish of the seas and flying creatures of heaven, and all the cattle and all the earth, and all the reptiles that creep on the earth" thing isn't working out. How can we be human if we have no respect for our fellow creatures?
posted by sneebler at 6:05 PM on March 14, 2012


When I was a very little kid, I remember there was a rattler-round-up in rural Rhode Island, where I lived. It was sponsored by the fire department, and it was kind of a holiday, where they got to show off the fire trucks and dress in their boots and coats and suspenders and hats and carry axes, and they'd tromp all over the rocky crags in the local park across from city hall, looking for rattler dens.

As a kid, and much taken with firemen, I imagined they'd fought thousands of thigh-thick snakes with fangs the size of ice-picks, dripping with hissing and smoking glowing green venom, armoed only with their axes and thick rubber boots!

In reality, they didn't see a one. That was the last event of its kind, as the Timber and Eastern Diamondback were hunted near to extinction in New England in the early '70s... I don't think the Diamondbacks ever returned, despite a few local landmarks named after them.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:42 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


That's right. We are breeding snakes that don't rattle. They still strike, though!

The evolutionary benefit of the rattle originally protected both the snake and the potential victim. A snake doesn't want to bite you: you're not its prey. It rattles when a non-prey creature threatens it, so it won't need to bite. Since (as you point out) the rattle is now, thanks to us, more of a danger to the snake than an advantage, they are reportedly rattling less and, (I have heard, can't find a cite just now) their rattle is becoming quieter.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:56 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I live on the edge of a canyon. Over the last decade, a couple of baby rattlers have shown up in my yard. I used a broom to urge the little guys back into the canyon, where they would be safe from the neighborhood cats.

Don't get me wrong. Cats are great! But the snakes, they were here first. They deserve some consideration from us warm-blooded types.
posted by SPrintF at 8:30 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


My lefty Texan friends react to similar news with a "yeah, but...", typically appealing to the "can-do" attitude and idiosyncratic culture of that State--as if to say, "Look, we know we are fucking up the planet, but at least we gave you all those John Ford movies, amirite, amirite?"

All kidding aside, what a sad, sad account of human disrespect for nature. I think people have already covered most of the bases as far as pessimism is concerned, but I'll just add that whatever we humans end up getting, we will definitely deserve it.
posted by anewnadir at 10:45 PM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I will be honest. I eat meat that was raised and slaughtered in a much worse fashion then these snakes (everyone that has had fast food does); my indignation is kept at a minimum because of this. What actually pisses me off is the fact that a journalist was kept away because of some asshat on facebook. Saying your a strong supporter of free speech while excluding someone because of what they might say is ironic to say the least.
posted by Felex at 11:11 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I swear I had a whole bit about salmonella in this, here's a link on eating rattlesnakes.
posted by katinka-katinka at 1:28 AM on March 15, 2012


I eat meat that was raised and slaughtered in a much worse fashion then these snakes (everyone that has had fast food does); my indignation is kept at a minimum because of this

It's not the way they die, its because they die unnecessarily, what's the point of this? It's fucking barbaric.
posted by mattoxic at 2:35 AM on March 15, 2012


mattoxic: "I eat meat that was raised and slaughtered in a much worse fashion then these snakes (everyone that has had fast food does); my indignation is kept at a minimum because of this

It's not the way they die, its because they die unnecessarily, what's the point of this? It's fucking barbaric
"

To be fair, it's not like people need to eat meat; and anyway, I think they do eat much of the rattlesnake meat.

But I think this stuff is sad, a holdover of this senseless antipathy towards snakes fed by old-school Christian culture demonizing (literally!) the snake. Um, I mean, "serpent". Sounds more evil. Personally, I go out of my way to move snakes out of the road before my lovely neighbors gleefully run them over.
posted by Red Loop at 3:37 AM on March 15, 2012


Oh man. As a former Texan, I have really mixed feelings about this. First of all, it is barbaric and tasteless and the videos are pretty gross and celebrate violence more than is necessary. On the other hand, rattlesnakes are really, really hard to feel deep sympathy for. I'm deeply skeptical that they're actually endangered in any way- the things are all over the place in many parts of Texas, and scary as hell. Once you've encountered one first hand in the wild when you aren't expecting it, you never forget it. Rattlesnake hide is used in all sorts of leather products, as well.

In fact, I just checked Wikipedia, and according to them "each annual Round-Up was said to result in the capture of 1% of the state's rattlesnake population."
posted by quincunx at 5:01 AM on March 15, 2012


Quincunx, you appear to be saying the barbarism is excusable because there's plenty of rattlesnake to go around and, well, they're just not that cute in the first place. The problem with this attitude is that it it ignores all other pressures on the rattlesnake's existence (of which there are many) and is subjective at best. (I was disappointed to see no rattlesnakes in the wild on a recent trip to California; it would have made my vacation.) History is full of examples of creatures driven to the brink of extinction because we started out with quite a lot of them. And nature is full of worthwhile creatures that don't have the poster appeal of a panda. Therefore neither point makes for good logic in my world.
posted by londonmark at 5:58 AM on March 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quincunx, you appear to be saying the barbarism is excusable because there's plenty of rattlesnake to go around and, well, they're just not that cute in the first place.

I’m not fond of the “spectacle” aspect of it, but it’s really just a public face for what already happens in private. Many people kill rattlesnakes routinely on ranches and on private property because they are a nuisance and a danger. Others use the skin in leather-based products; to my knowledge this is all perfectly legal. Hunting rattlesnakes is a dangerous pastime by its nature and far more people than not leave them well enough alone until they get into the house or yard or come too close to pets or kids. I’m willing to grant that there are other pressures on their existence- although, quite honestly, rattlesnakes are not the best example of this because they don’t have very many predators except man- and I am aware that some species have been hunted to extinction. But this is what the endangered species list is for. My opinion would change if there was evidence that they were threatened.
posted by quincunx at 6:31 AM on March 15, 2012


"I love the sexy slither of a lady snake."
posted by brand-gnu at 9:32 AM on March 15, 2012


I was disappointed to see no rattlesnakes in the wild on a recent trip to California

I've never been to a rattlesnake roundup and I never intend to go either, but I have scrambled on my ass backwards up a dry creek bed using every cuss word I know to get away from one and my SO had to drive 90 miles an hour to get his three year old to a hospital after she was bit by one on their front porch. Her entire leg swelled up three or four times it's normal size and turned completely purple. It's a wonder she survived considering a two year old DIED about 45 miles from where I live from a rattlesnake bite. We've had dogs bitten too. They are everywhere around here. Let one of those creatures, four or five or six feet long and as big around as your arm cross your front porch and you'll be running for the hoe and shovel like the rest of us. Endangered my ass.
posted by tamitang at 10:02 PM on March 15, 2012


When diseases spread by rodents increase I bet a few people will not mind stepping lightly in the wilderness to respect their predators.
posted by RuvaBlue at 2:38 AM on March 16, 2012


This graph from University of Floirda states 6 people a year dying from snake bites, 7 from spider bites, 21 from dog bites and 53 from hornet or bee stings, lightning kills 54.
posted by katinka-katinka at 2:46 AM on March 16, 2012


What Danny Mendez (and a guest) pointed out in the follow podcast, was that in his view the data the Texas collects during this roundup (how many snakes, what they weigh, the sex) is really meaningless without knowing where they came from or when. It sounds like people who supply the snakes to this event (and the other rattlesnake roundups in Texas and other states), start collecting them well in advance from all over the place and keep them in pits in the yards. If they aren't used at Sweetwater, you can sell them to any other roundup, and they'll be counted in that area.

I wouldn't be surprised that the rattlesnakes around Sweetwater are fewer in number than in other places, but I'm not sure if there is any data broken down by county or region. To me that the prices went up to $9 or $10 a pound from $2 a pound a few years ago and the number of snakes collected went down seems like the populations might be having a problem, but I'm just guessing. There could be other reasons for it.

If anyone stumbles on information that would clear up how information on rattlesnakes is collected, I'd love to know. From the podcast, it sounds like the Danny Mendez believes there is no baseline data at all.
posted by katinka-katinka at 3:03 AM on March 16, 2012


Don't tread on me.
posted by kcds at 3:46 AM on March 16, 2012


Yeah, the Simpsons episode was actually a documentary. And, if you participate in this, you are an idiot, just like the Simpsons makes you out to be.
posted by clvrmnky at 7:57 AM on March 16, 2012


This graph from University of Floirda states 6 people a year dying from snake bites, 7 from spider bites, 21 from dog bites and 53 from hornet or bee stings, lightning kills 54.

Deaths are one thing. BITES are another.

Between 7,000 and 8,000 people are estimated to have been bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year, and about five of those die.

In the United States, more than 15,000 domesticated animals are bitten by snakes each year. Rattlesnake envenomations account for 80% of the deadly incidents.

Crotalus atrox, the "western diamondback rattlesnake", is a venomous rattlesnake species found in the United States and Mexico. It is likely responsible for the majority of snakebite fatalities in Northern Mexico and the second greatest number in the USA after C. adamanteus.


katinka-katinka: "If anyone stumbles on information that would clear up how information on rattlesnakes is collected, I'd love to know."

This species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (v3.1, 2001).[17] Species are listed as such due to their wide distribution, presumed large population, or because it is unlikely to be declining fast enough to qualify for listing in a more threatened category. The population trend is stable. Year assessed: 2007.
posted by quincunx at 4:34 PM on March 16, 2012


I can't help but muse what will probably be my final word on the subject- this discussion has enlightened me that there's still a very real divide in the world between those urbanites who see "nature" and "the Wild West" as exotic, beautiful, distant and disappearing, and those of us who are, uh, "a little bit country" and have experience living with it every dang ol' day. Yeehaw.

(no, but seriously, I promise I'm not a snake-killer crusader. I just find the difference in perspective fascinating)
posted by quincunx at 4:44 PM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


When diseases spread by rodents increase I bet a few people will not mind stepping lightly in the wilderness to respect their predators.

See, this is what you don't understand. We don't live in the wilderness but we have to train the grandkids that they don't step outside without boots on and they need to pay attention when playing in the yard. They come up on the porch. Big rattlesnakes, all the freaking time.
posted by tamitang at 9:59 PM on March 16, 2012


While Texas may or may not be soaking in rattlesnakes, I still wonder about the treatment of the snakes after they are hunted. It seems true that there are protections for other food animals in being treated humanely before they are to be food; in Indiana, there is a festival that involves wild snapping turtles and the Indiana natural Resource Commission's position is that cruelty laws do not apply to wild animals. I wonder if Texas has the same position on the treatment of rattlesnakes for roundups.
posted by katinka-katinka at 2:53 AM on March 17, 2012


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