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The Most Cruel Contest in the World: Rattlesnake Round-Ups

rattlesnake round-up
Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals /

Rattlesnake round-ups are a controversial practice in parts of the United States, particularly in the South. It might just be one of the most cruel contests in the world, as thousands of innocent rattlesnakes are inhumanely killed for entertainment.

What Is a Rattlesnake Round-Up?

Image by Carol M. Highsmith via Library of Congress

Rattlesnake round-ups are events where participants gather to hunt and kill rattlesnakes. These gatherings often turn into festivals, featuring activities like snake handling, demonstrations, and even cooking the snakes.

Originating as a means to control rattlesnake populations, these events have evolved into social gatherings, attracting thousands of visitors. Although tradition, the practice is inhumane and ecologically damaging.

The History of This Southern Tradition

woman holding snake
Image by Library of Congress

This tradition dates back to the mid-20th century, rooted in rural Southern culture as a way to address the perceived threat of rattlesnakes to livestock and humans. Initially small, community-driven efforts, these round-ups have grown into massive and commercialized events.

These events reflect a disturbing aspect of cultural heritage, where entertainment is derived from the immoral killing of wildlife.

How the Rattlesnakes Are Killed

YouTube video

During these events, rattlesnakes are often hunted using gasoline to flush them out, a method that is both incredibly cruel and harmful to the environment. Once captured, the snakes are typically killed by decapitation.

Moreover, the use of gasoline can contaminate local ecosystems, impacting other species as well.

A Rattlesnake Can Live Without Its Head

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)
Head of an eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus). Image via Depositphotos

Remarkably, a rattlesnake can survive for a short period, even after decapitation. The snake’s head can still exhibit reflex actions, including biting, due to the lingering neural activity.

Rattlesnakes Rattle to Show Fear

Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals /

Contrary to popular belief, rattlesnakes rattle not as a sign of aggression but as a warning out of fear. This behavior is a defensive mechanism to deter potential threats. Understanding this aspect of rattlesnake behavior is crucial in dispelling myths and fostering a more informed approach to their treatment.

Footage from these round-ups shows hundreds of rattlesnakes simultaneously rattling their tails, which we can’t interpret in any other way than a desperate call for help.

Organizers Hide Behind the Excuse of Anti-Venom

girl holding snake
Image by Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Images

Organizers of rattlesnake round-ups often justify these events by claiming they are crucial for producing antivenom.

However, modern antivenom production typically does not rely on venom extracted from wild snake populations. Moreover, the methods used in round-ups, such as the use of gasoline to flush out snakes, can contaminate the venom, rendering it unsuitable for medical use.

The Cruel Practice of Rattlesnake Round-Ups: Conclusion

rattlesnake round-up
Image by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals /

Rattlesnake round-ups, steeped in tradition and controversy, pose significant ethical and ecological challenges. Educating the public about the cruelty of the practice and the ecological harm it causes is the first step in saving thousands of rattlesnakes from an inhumane death.

Thank you for reading this article about the tradition of rattlesnake round-ups! To learn more about these reptiles, take a look here: