There are numerous rattlesnake roundups in at least six states. This page deals only with the Sweetwater, Texas roundup, which is probably the largest.
The rattlesnake roundups in the U.S. were begun as an excuse to party and make money. Most of them slaughter thousands of snakes each year. A few do not allow slaughter but still abuse the animals. Very little education is provided. Most of them teach only that animals are put here for the amusement of mankind and that slaughter for amusement and profit is acceptable.
In the collection, many of the snakes are taken from dens while still in their winter slumber or coming out for the first basking in the sun. Others are gassed from holes. Gassing assures the death not only of the snakes, but of the other animals which live in those holes. The largest snakes are highly sought after for prize money. Gravid females are taken and slaughtered along with the others.
At one time there may have been an excuse to remove harmful snakes from newly developed residential areas to keep pets and children from harm, but now that excuse no longer exists. Now it is just needless slaughter, a slaughter which upsets the balance of nature.
If these were cute furry animals there would be an uproar heard across the country. However, since they aren't cuddly kitties (which are detrimental to the ecosystem) but are only "slimy snakes" (which are a beneficial part of the ecosystem) there is no outcry. Never mind that the roundup breaks most of the health laws in the state. Never mind that it breaks every provision of the state cruelty to animals laws. The roundup is BIG BUSINESS and no politician or government employee would dare risk his future by doing the right thing.
How any civic group can take pride in such practices is beyond my comprehension. How Sweetwater can take pride in it is a sad commentary on Sweetwater.
Recently the Humane Society of the U.S. published a booklet called "The Truth Behind Rattlesnake Roundups." It is a good perspective on the roundups. Many of my pictures were used in the publication. To order copies ($2.00 each) contact The Humane Society of the United States, 2100 L Street NW, Washington DC 20037
John O. Hollister, March 1999
During the second weekend of march, the annual Rattlesnake Roundup is held in Sweetwater, Texas. Sweetwater is located off Interstate 20, about 40 miles west of Abilene.
The rattlesnake roundup was begun by and continues to be operated by the Sweetwater Junior Chamber of Commerce. It brings in large amounts of money into the coffers of the JC's and the numerous vendors associated with the roundup.
The roundup began many years ago as a method of cutting down the large population of rattlesnakes found in the area. Today it has grown to massive proportions. It is no longer merely a rattlesnake roundup. There are carnival rides, a midway and a massive flea market in addition to the rattlesnake roundup. The roundup still draws thousands of people. The price of admission is $5.00 for adults, $3.50 for children.
Owing to the lingering cool weather, the take of rattlesnakes in 1998 was meager. In recent years, snakes have been brought in from areas far away from Sweetwater. In 1999 there was a sizeable take of rattlesnakes.
The signs indicate a close working relationship between the roundup and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. In 1999 I was present for the first day of the roundup, and saw no TPWD officials present.
The rattlesnakes are placed into a large pit for viewing and holding. Note that there are types of rattlesnakes other than diamondbacks in the pit. Some of the species used in the roundup are not found within 100 miles or more of Sweetwater. On a good year, the pit would be packed with snakes. This year, in part due to the extended cool weather and in part due to the massive collecting, not that many snakes were in the pit
I asked the fellows doing the milking what was done with the venom. They told me that it was used for scientific purposes and for the production of antivenin. However, In the hour that I was in the area, the container into which they were milking the venom was not changed or refrigerated. Also, there were several different species of rattlesnakes in the pit.
This is the area in which the snakes are killed by chunking off their heads. They are then skinned, the organs removed and the meat prepared for cooking or sale. The heads are saved to be processed, mounted and sold.
The Sweetwater JayCees measure, weigh and sex many of the snakes. What is done with this data, if anything, is not certain. The average yearly take of rattlesnakes is 5,824 pounds. The largest take was in 1982 - 17,986 pounds.
The following pictures are of some of the data charts compiled by the JayCees and pretty well make up their "scientific" department.
I have seen snakes at the roundup which do not occur in any of the counties listed. I'm sure that there are many counties from which snakes are taken which are not listed. It would not surprise me to learn that some of the snakes come from neighboring states.