By Mark Richardson, Texas News Service
SWEETWATER – A group of conservation biologists is working to stop the wholesale killing of rattlesnakes each spring at numerous roundup festivals across the South and Southwest. The nonprofit Advocates for Snake Preservation has argued that there is no science to support the belief that roundups prevent overpopulation and that, in some areas, the species is becoming endangered. Melissa Amarello, the group’s co-founder and director of education, said that reviled though they may be, rattlesnakes are important to the balance of nature.
“Rattlesnakes are a very important predator,” she said. “Now, they’re not what we would call the top of the food chain, because they do have a host of predators themselves – a lot of animals that depend on them for food – and there are a lot of species that they help to maintain the balance of, as well.”
Early spring is prime time for most roundups, Amarello said, and her group is focusing on this weekend’s Sweetwater Jaycees Rattlesnake Roundup in West Texas, which bills itself as the world’s largest. Her group documented last year’s event in Sweetwater, where professional hunters gather thousands of snakes, put them on display and then slaughter them for their skin, meat and rattles.
She said her Arizona-based group does not want to end the roundup festivals but to stop the unnecessary killing of huge numbers of snakes, mostly for entertainment. Amarello said several festivals have become even more successful by not killing snakes but celebrating their area’s local wildlife.
“We recognize that these festivals happen in small towns. It’s a really important source of revenue for the local economy. It’s part of their culture and their tradition, and we don’t want to take all that away from them,” she said. “We just want them to stop killing snakes at the roundup.”
The Sweetwater Jaycees have reported that their annual spring festival brings more than 25,000 visitors each year with an economic impact of more than $8 million to the farming and ranching community of more than 10,000 people.