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For Immediate Release, March 21, 2013

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

55,000 People Call on Alabama "Rattlesnake Rodeo" to Switch to Humane Wildlife Festival

MONTGOMERY, Ala.— This weekend the city of Opp, Ala., hosts its annual “rattlesnake rodeo” — a lethal and cruel contest in which prizes are awarded to hunters who capture the greatest number of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. The Center for Biological Diversity today presented a petition with more than 55,000 signatures to the city of Opp, the event’s sponsor, asking that the city replace the rattlesnake rodeo with a wildlife-friendly festival where no snakes are killed.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake
Eastern diamondback rattlesnake photo © D. Bruce Means. Photos are available for media use.

“The eastern diamondbacks targeted by the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo 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 sponsors of the Opp event 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 rattlesnake rodeos or “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 rattler may deserve a place on the list of protected species and initiated a full status review.

Opp, Ala. and Whigham, Ga. host the only two remaining lethal rattlesnake roundups in the Southeast. Last year Claxton, Ga., replaced its rattlesnake roundup with the Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival, which displays captive rattlesnakes, along with many other educational wildlife exhibits. All other roundups in the Southeast have abandoned the outdated practice of removing rare rattlers from the wild.

“We hope this will be the last time rattlers are collected for the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo,” said Adkins Giese. “There is no reason to kill these rare snakes. Most people attending the Opp event 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.

Though rattlesnakes are venomous, they pose a very small public-safety risk. More people are killed every year by lightning strikes and bee stings. The majority of snake bites occur when humans try to handle or kill snakes — so rattlesnake roundups endanger public health by encouraging the public to do just that. Still, malicious killings by those who perceive the snake as a threat are contributing to its decline.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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