Our state is better than this — stand up against violence towards snakes.
The Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup has wrapped up again this year, and has taken with it the lives of pits full of Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes. This festival started 1958, with locals justifying the festival as a means of controlling the snake population. It has since grown into an annual mass-killing event that attracts visitors from around the globe. To those traveling to Texas for the first time to see the roundup, this is their first impression of our state. Surely we can do better.
Sweetwater Myths & Misunderstandings
With increasing backlash from environmentalists and the general public, Sweetwater proponents have developed defenses. However, none of these can justify the violence and cruelty perpetrated at the event, and many of them are simply untrue.
- Death by Snake Bite: Pro-Sweetwater people often mention rattlesnakes’ threat to children’s safety when questioned about the festival. In reality, these snakes are responsible for less than one death per year in Texas. Typically, venomous snake bites are received by people who handle or otherwise taunt the snakes. While children’s safety is certainly important, there are simple steps that can be taken to keep them safe from wild snakes.
- Cattle Bites: Another common defense is that rattlesnakes kill ranchers’ cattle. However, this is not supported by the USDA’s Cattle Death Loss report, which has cited no cattle deaths related to snake bites. Cattle are large animals, and typically will experience swelling, but not death as a result of snake envenomation.
- Population Control: Sweetwater supporters claim that the event makes less than 1% of an impact on rattlesnake populations in the area, while simultaneously boasting that the event is a form of population control. The truth is that little is done to monitor the affect that the event has on snakes.
- Economic Necessity: For a town with a small population like Sweetwater, this event pumps a lot of money into the local economy. However, educational events such as Texas Rattlesnake Festival are proving that the public is interested in non-violent, educational snake events. Other states have banned roundup events and replaced them with similar educational events, keeping their economy alive without any needless killing.
- Venom Collection: Many festival goers maintain that the venom collected at Sweetwater’s annual roundup is vital for research. The Kentucky Reptile Zoo argues that this venom is not viable for antivenin production, as the snakes used for collection are unhealthy. These snakes are often bruised and bloodied from rough handling at the event, and have been gassed out of their dens for collection.
Gassing of Rattlesnake Dens
Along with the Center for Biological Diversity, we petitioned Texas Parks and Wildlife to ban the gassing of rattlesnake dens. This practice is used as a means of collecting rattlesnakes. Hunters pump natural gas into the ground to drive rattlesnakes out of their dens, so that they can be easily collected and hauled off to the roundup. Gassing not only harms the plant life in the area, it can harm non-target animal species that share these burrows as well. Some of these animals include:
- Texas tortoises, ornate box turtles
- Spiny lizards, earless lizards, collared lizards, tree lizards
- Kit foxes, bobcats, ocelots
- Burrowing owls
- Endangered karst invertebrates
This gas is harmful even to event-goers, who eat rattlesnake meat cooked from the same animals who were gassed.
Texas Parks and Wildlife has created a Snake Harvest Working Group to resolve the gassing issue. As of now, a decision is set to be reached in May of 2016.
Watch this video from Advocates for Snake Preservation for a close-up look at the cruelty of Sweetwater’s Rattlesnake Roundup:
We encourage you to treat all wildlife with respect. Like any wild animal, these snakes are vital to their ecosystems. Mass-hunting events such as the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup spread a message of violence and animal cruelty.
Show your support for snakes by donating, or by signing up for our monthly newsletter: