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For Immediate Release, January 23, 2013

Contact:  Collette Adkins Giese, Center for Biological Diversity, (651) 955-3821
Bruce Means, Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy, (850) 681-6208
Jim Ries, One More Generation, (877) 664-8426
Bill Matturro, Protect All Living Species, (229) 872-3553

48,000 People Call on Last Remaining Georgia "Rattlesnake Roundup" to Switch to Humane Wildlife Festival

ATLANTA— This weekend Whigham, Ga., hosts its annual “rattlesnake roundup” — a lethal and cruel contest in which prizes are awarded to hunters who capture the greatest number of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. (The rattlers are then killed en masse.) The Center for Biological Diversity and its allies today presented a petition with more than 48,000 signatures to the Whigham Community Club asking that the state’s last roundup change to a wildlife-friendly festival where no snakes are killed.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake
Eastern diamondback rattlesnake photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Ted Arensmeier. Photos of eastern diamondbacks and the 2012 Whigham roundup are available for media use.

All of Georgia’s other roundups have abandoned the outdated practice of removing rare rattlers from the wild. Last year Claxton, Ga., replaced its roundup with the Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival, which displays captive rattlesnakes, along with many other educational wildlife exhibits. While attendance at the Whigham roundup dropped in past years, the new wildlife festival in Claxton received a boost in attendance and high praise from environmental groups, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, biologists and others who have lobbied for years to end rattlesnake roundups.

“The eastern diamondbacks targeted by the Whigham roundup are rapidly disappearing all across the southeastern United States, and in some states they’ve more or less vanished,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a biologist and attorney at the Center who works to protect rare reptiles and amphibians. “I’m hopeful that Whigham roundup sponsors will soon realize that they don’t need to kill imperiled snakes to have a successful community festival.”

At least four states (Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma and Alabama) still hold lethal roundups. Analysis of data from four roundups in the southeastern United States shows a steady decline in the weights of prizewinning eastern diamondbacks and the number collected; this once-common species is being pushed toward extinction not only by hunting pressure but also by habitat loss and road mortality. 

In 2011, the Center — along with allies and Dr. Bruce Means, an expert on the eastern diamondback rattlesnake — filed a petition to protect eastern diamondbacks under the Endangered Species Act. Last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that the venomous snake may deserve a place on the list of protected species and initiated a full status review.

“When rattlers are collected at the Whigham Rattlesnake Roundup this weekend, we hope that it will be for the last time,” said Olivia and Carter Ries, elementary-school-aged founders of a Georgia-based environmental group called One More Generation. “There is no reason to kill these rare snakes. We’re sure that most people that go to the roundup just want to see some amazing snakes and have a fun day.”

The eastern diamondback is the largest rattlesnake in the world. Adults are typically 4 to 5 feet long and weigh 4 to 5 pounds, but a big snake can reach 6 feet in length and weigh 12 pounds or more. Scientific studies over the past decade have documented range-wide population declines and significant range contractions for the eastern diamondback.

People fear rattlesnakes, but in reality eastern diamondbacks pose a very small public-safety risk. The snakes are certainly venomous, but more people are killed every year by lightning strikes and bee stings. In fact, the majority of snake bites occur when humans try to handle or kill snakes — so rattlesnake roundups themselves endanger public health by encouraging the public to do just that. Still, malicious killings by those who perceive the snakes as a threat are contributing to its decline.

Photos of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes for media use are available here. Photos from the 2012 Whigham Rattlesnake Roundup are available here.

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