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 wal
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
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.