WOODSTOCK, GA. » An annual rattlesnake roundup in south Georgia recently changed the format of this month’s event to celebrate living snakes without skinning and butchering them, earning plaudits from animal rights activists.
But no such changes are occurring at a huge rattlesnake roundup beginning this weekend in Texas, a festival that the activists say is barbaric. The two events are a marked contrast in how rattlesnakes are handled. They also show the huge divide in how they are seen by some, with the Georgia festival heralded by animal advocates and the Texas roundup shamed.
“A few rattlesnake roundups still persist,” the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity said in a statement full of scorn for the Texas festival, which is “notorious for openly killing and skinning western diamondback rattlesnakes by the hundreds in front of crowds.”
Plans for the “World’s Largest Rattlesnake Roundup” this weekend in the Texas town of Sweetwater are full-scale ahead, with snakes set to be skinned and others “milked” of their venom. There’s even a pageant for local young women, Miss Snake Charmer. The town of 11,000 is expected to swell to around 30,000 during the festival that runs through Sunday, said Dennis Cumbie, one of the organizers. “It’s the biggest event in this town every year,” Cumbie said. “It’s very much part of our culture.”
The same is true in the south Alabama town of Opp, where an annual rattlesnake festival that has drawn thousands for nearly six decades opens March 25. While organizers say the snake hunters who bring in big rattlers get rid of nuisance reptiles, opponents say Eastern diamondback snakes are declining in population.
Sweetwater has held its rattlesnake roundup for more than six decades, “and what we have figured out over 64 years is that we’re not damaging the population of the snakes whatsoever,” Cumbie said. Rather, organizers liken snake hunting to how other hunters keep deer numbers in check.
In Georgia, organizers say the more humane format they launched for the first time last weekend was a success. Exact attendance figures are unknown, but “I’ve heard anywhere from 7,000 to 15,000,” said Jeffrey Cox, who has been helping to organize the Whigham Rattlesnake Roundup for the past four decades.
— The Associated Press