The annual rattlesnake roundup in Texas in the United States has drawn criticism from rattlesnake experts and animal welfare organizations, who argue that the roundup is inhumane and causes unnecessary harm to the reptiles.
During the event, thousands of pounds of rattlesnakes are hunted and rounded up as they emerge from their dens to breed in the spring. Sometimes, gasoline is sprayed into the rocky holes to force the snakes out.
“We’ll put about a quarter of a cup, maybe a half a cup of gasoline in the back, and they (rattlesnakes) don’t like the fumes. So, what’s going to happen is, you know, they’ll come out to kind of get a breath of fresh air. And as they start moving towards the front, you know, we’ll, we’ll start snatching them.” said Jeffery Cornett, a member of Sweetwater Jaycees, who organizes the roundup.
In 2016, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department delayed considering banning gasoline use in the snake dens.
Each year, in the second weekend of March, the event draws tens of thousands of visitors, who come to watch the rattlesnake shows, venom extraction demonstrations, and how the animals are skinned for leather goods.
“Right now, we’re standing in our weigh-in pit where all of our snakes that we buy are brought and weighed in. From here, they will go to our milking pit, where the venom is extracted. Then they’ll go to our research pit where they’re weighed, stretched and sexed. Then they make it to the final spot, which is our skinning pit,” the president of Sweetwater Jaycees, Travis Gardner, said.
The rattlesnake skins go to dealers who make boots, belts, hats and other leather items.
Rattlesnake expert and research scientist Matt Goode of the University of Arizona said the roundup event lacks humanity for the reptiles. “It’s hard for me to think of any other interaction that humans have with wildlife that could be worse, you know, or more abhorrent. I mean, they’re just morally wrong, right? I mean, they, this circus-like atmosphere that they have around these things, it’s just, it’s ridiculous. To me, it shows a complete lack of respect for life, you know?”
He’s also angered by the demonstration where a snake attacks a balloon to show the public a snake attack. “They have the snakes pop the balloons. They bite the balloon. Well, what does that do to that? I mean, snakes have like heat pits. They have these thermally sensitive pits in their face. When a balloon pops, what damage does that do? You know, why do we need to pop a balloon in the face of any animal?” Goode said.
Tiffany Bright, director of operations for the Rattlesnake Conservancy, has suggested that Texas could learn from other states that regulate rattlesnake roundups, such as Pennsylvania.
In those states, hunters are limited to how many rattlesnakes they can collect, whereas in Texas, there is no regulation or control for hunting these animals.
“You can go out, you can pour gasoline into the environment, and you can collect as many rattlesnakes that you find regardless of size or whether it’s a male or a female or any kind of oversight or regulations or bag limits like that,” Bright said.
Critics also question the use of venom extracted from the snakes during the roundup. While organizers claim that the poison is sold for research or used to create antivenom, blood thinners, and other medications, Bright is dubious about where the venom actually ends up. She notes that her organization has not found any reputable researchers or pharmaceutical companies that use venom collected from these events.
“I have heard that a lot of times, they make those claims to justify collecting the venom. But really, it’s kind of just to show the crowd how much venom these animals can produce,” Bright said.
Despite the criticism, the Sweetwater Jaycees continue to defend the event, arguing that it supports the local community by putting money back into local charities by selling leather goods and other products made from the rattlesnakes.
According to a Sweetwater Jaycees spokesman, the 2022 event netted 2,595 pounds of rattlesnakes.Donate