Georgia Officials Called on to End Cruel, Dangerous Rattlesnake Roundups
ATLANTA— The Center for Biological Diversity and allies today sent a letter to Georgia wildlife officials urging them to enforce laws that protect both animals and people at “rattlesnake roundups” — annual contests in which hunters bring in as many snakes as they can catch in a year to be milked for venom, butchered, then sold for meat and skin. Two roundups take place every year in Georgia — one in Whigham in January, the other in Claxton in March. The letter was sent to local law-enforcement officials, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and roundup sponsors.
Georgia state law requires that anyone who possesses a wild rattlesnake obtain a “wild animal license” from the Department of Natural Resources. For the sake of both animal welfare and public safety, the law requires those who keep wild rattlesnakes to buy liability insurance and treat the snakes humanely. The groups’ letter, sent by the Center, Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy, and One More Generation, asks that appropriate law-enforcement measures be taken before and during the roundups to make sure sponsors and participants carry insurance and give the snakes humane treatment.
“Possession of wild rattlesnakes without a license is against the law in Georgia for good, common-sense reasons, and the state needs to make the law real by enforcing it,” said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity who works to protect rare and vanishing reptiles and amphibians. “But the best way to stop the abuse of animals, make sure no one gets hurt, and save the eastern diamondback from extinction is to just cancel these roundups. The bottom line is, they’re cruel.”
Rattlesnake roundups are depleting populations of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes: Analysis of data from four roundups in the southeastern United States shows a steady decline in the weights of prize-winning eastern diamondbacks and the number collected. This once-common species is being pushed toward extinction not only by hunting pressure but also by habitat loss and road mortality. In August, the Center and allies filed a petition to protect the snake under the Endangered Species Act.
“Georgia is blessed with a rich natural heritage of animals and plants. All of these species — even the rattlesnakes — should be allowed to exist and play their intended roles in our wild places,” said Adkins Giese. “It’s time to replace rattlesnake roundups with festivals that celebrate wildlife and educate folks on the importance of saving native species.”
In response to dwindling rattlesnake populations and public pressure, the town of Fitzgerald, Ga., has replaced its rattlesnake roundup with a wild chicken festival, which organizers report has been an enormous success.
For a link to photos of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, please see: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/reptiles/eastern_diamondback_rattlesnake/photos.html.