ATLANTA— This weekend the Evans County Wildlife Club hosts the first-ever Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival, where snakes will be celebrated instead of collected and killed. The Center for Biological Diversity, Coastal Plains Institute, One More Generation and Protect All Living Species have worked for years to end rattlesnake roundups and are applauding Claxton’s decision to switch to a wildlife festival.
“We’re so happy to see the rattlesnake roundup in Claxton replaced by a humane event that celebrates these great native animals and recognizes the importance of saving them,” said Collette Adkins Giese, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity who works to protect rare and vanishing reptiles and amphibians. “We hope that wildlife enthusiasts across Georgia go to the festival to show support for this change.”
The Claxton rattlesnake festival — in its 45th year — is dropping “roundup” from its name, as the event no longer includes the hunting, buying and selling of wild rattlers. Now known as the Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival, the event will feature displays of the imperiled eastern diamondback rattlesnake and other native wildlife. Educational programs, entertainment and a variety of other activities will also be offered. Thousands of people are expected to attend the event this weekend.
“The wildlife festival is going to be a lot of fun, and we’re doing a presentation to other kids about how to save wildlife,” said Olivia (9) and Carter (10) Ries, student founders of One More Generation. “We went to the event last year and it was sad to see the snakes and know that they’d be killed. Now everyone can come to the festival and enjoy seeing the snakes without worrying about them.”
The festival transformation has met with high praise from environmental groups, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, biologists and others. With the end of the Claxton roundup, only one in Georgia remains, which is held annually in Whigham. The Center for Biological Diversity, Coastal Plains Institute, One More Generation and Protect All Living Species have repeatedly contacted the organizers of the Whigham roundup to encourage them to switch to a wildlife festival; the public can do the same by signing this petition.
“We congratulate the sponsors of the Claxton event for recognizing that all wildlife has a valuable place in nature,” said Dr. Bruce Means, director of the Coastal Plains Institute and an expert on the eastern diamondback rattlesnake. “The rattlesnake roundup in Whigham needs to follow suit — it needs to recognize that massacres of endangered animals are just wrong, and clearly the wrong message to send about our relationship to the natural world.”
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 prizewinning 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,” said Bill Matturro of Protect All Living Species. “Rattlesnakes serve an important role in the food chain by controlling rodent populations and should be respected.”