Each spring, festivals are held throughout Texas in which thousands of rattlesnakes are kidnapped from their dens, kept without adequate food or water, tortured, and finally killed for entertainment and profit. We have written a little about rattlesnake roundups before (here and here), and you can find out more at The Center for Biological Diversity.
If you have ever been out looking for snakes, or even spent time in rattlesnake habitat, you’ve probably noticed rattlesnakes are not exactly easy to come by. I gather most reading this have not seen a thousand wild rattlesnakes in their life, even if they’ve been looking (yeah, yeah, some of you have, I know). So how do they get thousands of snakes for these roundups? Are there just that many more rattlesnakes in Texas?
I have had days where I’ve seen a couple dozen rattlesnakes. Yep, that’s more than 20 snakes in one day. The only way I’ve accomplished this is by visiting dens – if you want to find a lot of snakes, go to snake dens. And that’s how collectors for roundups do it too.
More than 80 rattlesnakes use our largest, best-studied den complex. But we’ve never seen more than a couple dozen in one day, because most of them are underground or have already dispersed for the year. So if you’re looking to collect those snakes and you want to get as many as possible, you have to visit the den early and get those snakes to come out onto the surface.
If you don’t care about the snakes, their neighbors in the den, or the environment, this can be easily accomplished by dumping gasoline in the den. And despite the obvious damage this practice causes to more than just the snakes, this is currently a legal and common method of snake collection in Texas.
But, this could change and you can help.
In late 2013 Texas Parks and Wildlife proposed changing their collecting regulations to make the practice of collecting by dumping gasoline illegal. Unfortunately, a couple days before the end of the comment period they postponed their decision until September (2014). At a hearing in Sweetwater, home of the largest rattlesnake roundup, voices against the ban were strong and this likely influenced the postponement. So good news, bad news. Gassing will be used this roundup season, but the strong opposition to the proposed ban terrified roundup proponents. Apparently 80% of rattlesnakes used in roundups are collected with gas, so banning this practice could put a real dent in roundups!
This simple change in collecting regulations could make a huge difference. Not only will the disgusting and environmentally-damaging practice of dumping gasoline on the ground stop, but it will make it more difficult to collect rattlesnakes for roundups. Maybe this will be the first step toward ending rattlesnake roundups?
Although they are not officially soliciting comments at this time, you can email your comments on prohibiting the use of noxious or toxic substances to disturb or collect nongame wildlife to Andy Gluesenkamp, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, at email@example.com.
We’ll provide more information on this issue as it becomes available.
Here are the comments I submitted; feel free to use any or all of my text.
Dear Mr. Gluesenkamp:
I strongly support amending the means and methods to take nongame wildlife to prohibit the use of noxious or toxic substances to disturb or collect nongame wildlife and the possession of nongame wildlife collected by the use of such substances.
The data overwhelmingly support this change. The practice of using noxious or toxic substances to disturb and collect wildlife is damaging to both the target animal and others using the area where the substance is applied. Further, noxious and toxic substances are damaging to the surrounding environment, potentially making it unusable for wildlife for years following the application.
The proposed changes would have little, if any, impact on the local economy. Concern that this ban would cripple rattlesnake roundups and negatively impact the economy is unfounded. In Georgia, the last rattlesnake roundup was changed to a wildlife-friendly festival with no rattlesnakes collected from the wild or killed last year. The festival was just as successful, financially, in 2013 than in past years. If this ban would make traditional rattlesnake roundup unfeasible, perhaps they should follow the model of Claxton, Georgia.
Please prohibit the use of noxious or toxic substances to disturb or collect nongame wildlife and the possession of nongame wildlife collected by the use of such substances.
Melissa Amarello, M.S.