Jill Howard Church,
Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
It's a sad commentary further magnified by the "family fun" element that's become inexplicably attached to both, suggesting that these contests might yet plague another generation.
I have a thing for turtles. Not a plaster-your-house-with-turtle-knickknacks type of thing, but a genuine innate affection for turtles and tortoises of all sizes. I am particularly fond of box turtles and am zealous about rescuing them from traffic (hence the "I Brake for Turtles" bumper sticker on my car, which is meant both as a warning and a mea culpa for sudden stops and highly illegal U-turns). The photo below is one I took of a recent baby found in my back yard. What's not to love?
So it was with great relief that I learned of the cancellation of the 2012 "Snapperfest," a loathsome practice that an Indiana campground has hosted for years. If you want to see for yourself, watch this video.
If you'd rather not watch, here's how the Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians describes the event on its website:
The contest involves fishing a snapping turtle out of a tank, running with the turtle to a site at a distance from the tank, and then attempting to grasp the turtle completely around the neck without getting bit. The terrified animals are grabbed by their tails, swung around or slammed to the ground while a surrounding crowd of spectators hoot and holler. From its beginning, this event was widely considered animal cruelty and over the last 15 years more and more people, both nationally and internationally, have voiced their concern and signed petitions to outlaw this event. Organizers of the event do not consider this animal cruelty since no turtles have been reportedly killed during the festivities.
The organizers clearly have never been grabbed by the neck or swung around, however effectively that might have curtailed interest in this "sport" a bit sooner.
But the good news is that national attention and an organized petition drive seem to have finally ended the practice, at least for now. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is supposedly monitoring the issue, and hopefully it is truly ended and not just scheming to move elsewhere.
Snapperfest is not unlike another scurrilous practice, the rattlesnake roundup. Those events are found in Alabama, Georgia, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, and involve a variety of contests where "hunters" collect and kill rattlesnakes in a festival-like atmosphere. The Center for Biological Diversity notes,
To catch snakes for the event, hunters spray gasoline into tortoise burrows, destroying the burrows and often killing the animals inside. More than 350 species depend on tortoise burrows for food and shelter. Roundup organizers claim that hunters no longer use gassing to catch snakes, but in January 2010, wildlife officials in Georgia apprehended four men who had gassed 50 tortoise burrows to collect snakes for the rattlesnake roundup in Whigham.
People bring their children to these roundups, and some even crown a beauty pageant queen. Laney Wallace, Miss Snake Charmer 2011 in Sweetwater, Texas (where the roundup is organized by the local Jaycees), told CNN, "Tomorrow I get to skin snakes and chop their heads off, and I am super-excited about it." (You can't make this stuff up.)
Both Snapperfest and the rattlesnake roundups (and no doubt other events like them that lurk elsewhere) are pitiful examples of the lesser side of (in) human nature. There's a moronic macho element to both, I guess due to the fact that snapping turtles and rattlesnakes can indeed inflict serious bites when provoked and therefore dominating them proves...well, nothing, really. It's a sad commentary further magnified by the "family fun" element that's become inexplicably attached to both, suggesting that these contests might yet plague another generation.
So the next time you see a turtle in the road, or a snake for that matter (the latter often sun themselves on warm asphalt), pick up the turtle or gently nudge the snake in a safe direction and help balance out the cruelty that exists elsewhere.
Jill Howard Church is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and editor who specializes in animal issues. She is currently Managing Editor of AV Magazine for the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS) and the President of GAveg, the Vegetarian Society of Georgia.
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