A newly published study shows that “rattlesnake roundups” have depleted populations of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes in the southeastern United States. This once-common species is being pushed toward extinction by hunting pressure, habitat loss, and road mortality. The snake hasn’t been seen in Louisiana since 1980, and is now uncommon throughout its range in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and the Carolinas.
“Rattlesnake roundups are an abomination,” said Tierra Curry, biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The eastern diamondback rattlesnake needs to be protected from these wasteful hunts before it’s pushed to the brink of extinction.”
“Rattlesnake roundups” are annual contests in which hunters bring in as many snakes as they can catch in a year to be milked for venom, butchered, and then sold for meat and skin. The peer-reviewed study, “Effects of Rattlesnake Roundups on the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake,” by Dr. Bruce Means, published in the most recent issue of Herpetological Conservation and Biology, analyzed the number and size of snakes turned in at the killing contests and found that both the total number of snakes and the size of individual snakes have declined over a 50-year time span.
“This study clearly shows that roundups are negatively impacting eastern rattlesnake populations, despite common claims to the contrary. State wildlife agencies should ban the taking of venomous snakes or at the very least regulate their taking by developing bag limits and seasonal harvest guidelines,” said study author Means, who is executive director of the Coastal Plains Institute and Land Conservancy.
In response to dwindling rattlesnake populations, public pressure, and environmental concerns, the town of Fitzgerald, Georgia replaced its rattlesnake roundup with a wild chicken festival, which organizers report has been an enormous success. “Rattlesnake roundups should be replaced with festivals celebrating wildlife and offering educational programs on the importance of saving native species,” stated Means.
“Indiscriminate hunting of most other wildlife has been banned for decades and there’s no reason that free-for-alls should be allowed for rattlesnakes,” said Curry. “Rattlesnakes are an important part of the web of life that help control rodent populations.”
The study was published in the August 2009 issue of Herpetological Conservation and Biology.