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For Immediate Release, October 20, 2011

Contact: Collette Adkins Giese, (651) 955-3821

Wildlife Officials in Georgia, Alabama Urged to Save Gopher Tortoises From
Poisoning by Rattlesnake Hunters

ATLANTA— The Center for Biological Diversity and allies today sent letters to wildlife officials in Georgia and Alabama urging them to stop rattlesnake hunters from using poisons that harm imperiled gopher tortoises. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently found that rattlesnake hunting threatens the tortoises because hunters commonly use noxious chemicals to drive rattlesnakes out of tortoise burrows.

“Both individual and organized rattlesnake captures typically extract snakes from gopher tortoise burrows using noxious liquids or gases, which undoubtedly harms or harasses gopher tortoises in active burrows,” wrote the Service in a recent rulemaking adding the eastern gopher tortoise to the list of candidate species for Endangered Species Act protection. The Service explained that prohibition of rattlesnake hunting would reduce the threat to gopher tortoises. 

Rattlesnakes are unprotected in Georgia and Alabama, where unlimited numbers can be killed. Eastern diamondbacks and other rattlesnakes are targeted by annual “rattlesnake roundups” held in Opp, Ala., and Grady and Evans counties in Georgia — inhumane festivals that offer prizes to encourage hunters to collect the snakes, which are exhibited and then slaughtered. While Georgia and Alabama law prohibits use of gasoline or any noxious chemical to drive wildlife from their homes, difficulty in enforcement has allowed the illegal practice to continue.      

“Gopher tortoises are being poisoned as part of widespread rattlesnake hunts in Georgia and Alabama and it needs to stop,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a conservation biologist and attorney at the Center. “Gopher tortoise burrows provide homes for dozens of wildlife species, so a ban on rattlesnake hunting and better enforcement of the rules we do have would help protect the tortoises and the important role they play in nature.” 

On July 27, 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service added the eastern gopher tortoise to the list of candidate species for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The eastern gopher tortoise is found east of the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers in Alabama, as well as in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Gopher tortoises west of the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers in Alabama, and in Louisiana and Mississippi, have been federally protected since 1987. The tortoise is listed as threatened by the state of Georgia and is protected as nongame wildlife in Alabama.

On August 22, 2011, the Center and allies filed an Endangered Species Act petition to protect the eastern diamondback rattlesnake as federally threatened. Experts agree the snakes are suffering substantial declines across their range in the coastal plain of the southeastern United States. Unregulated hunting is a primary threat.

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