Saturday, March 12, 2016

Thousands of rattlesnakes screaming?

Sweetwater Jaycees clean and skinned rattlesnakes during the rattlesnake roundup in 2015. (AP/Odessa American, Courtney Sacco)
 The little city of Sweetwater, Texas, has 11,000 residents and one very big event each year. It features a pageant, food stands and contests, but the centerpiece is a bloody hunt: Thousands of Western diamond rattlesnakes are rounded up, milked of their venom and then beheaded and skinned in front of crowds at a county coliseum.

Sweetwater’s “World’s Largest Rattlesnake Roundup” ends Sunday, 59 years after the Junior Chamber of Commerce, or “Jaycees,” launched it as a way to ostensibly control the region’s abundant population of rattlers, which were accused of killing cattle and biting dozens of people each year.

These days, it draws more than 25,000 visitors, among them out-of-state snake hunting teams and foreign tourists who stop by to see the Wild West in action. Last year, 3,780 pounds of snakes were netted, and they were first thrown live in a pit — it looks something like an above-ground swimming pool — where a man in what must be very sturdy boots stood among them, stirring the pile of reptiles to keep them from suffocating each other. The 2014 Miss Texas joined him for a bit.

Of course, there has to be busybody controversy:

“At these events, it’s common to see snakes swollen and bloody from being restrained or thrown by handlers, dead and dying snakes, snakes too weak or stressed to defend themselves, unsanitary conditions, cruelty and dangers to the public,” Melissa Amarello, cofounder of the Tucson-based Advocates for Snake Preservation, said in a statement. “Rattlesnakes rattle when they are terrified, not angry or preparing to attack. … The sound of rattling at these roundups is in fact a thousand snakes screaming.”

These folks aren't just having fun.  The sweet folks of Sweetwater respond:

There are other events, including a Miss Snake Charmer contest, which nets the winner a scholarship. And the snakes, the Jaycees note, aren’t sacrificed for nothing: Their skin is sold, their meat is eaten — plates of fried snake are a highlight of the event — and their venom is purchased for research.

And here I'll let you in on a secret. While I admire Miss Texas (in more ways than one), you will never, ever, catch this ol' cowboy in that pit full of "screaming" sonsabitches. Nope. There would only be one scream... 

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