Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 26, 2017

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

More Than 44,000 Call on Last Georgia 'Rattlesnake Roundup' to Switch to Humane Wildlife Festival

ATLANTA— This weekend marks Whigham, Georgia's annual rattlesnake roundup — a cruel contest in which hunters compete for prizes by capturing rare eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. The Center for Biological Diversity this week presented a petition with more than 44,000 signatures to the Whigham Community Club asking that the state's only remaining roundup be replaced by a wildlife-friendly festival where no wild snakes are captured and sold for venom extraction, meat or skins. The Center also presented more than 4,300 letters with the same message to Whigham's mayor.

All of Georgia's other roundups have abandoned the outdated practice of removing rare rattlers from the wild. Five years ago Claxton, Ga. replaced its roundup with the Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival, which displays captive rattlesnakes alongside other educational wildlife exhibits. 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.

“I understand that people at the roundup want to see snakes, but this damaging hunting contest just has to end,” said Collette Adkins, a biologist and senior attorney at the Center who works to protect rare reptiles and amphibians. “People are fascinated by the rare rattlers, and so am I. Whigham could display captive snakes instead of encouraging hunters to catch rare wild snakes.”

The eastern diamondback continues to be pushed toward extinction by hunting pressure, habitat loss and road mortality. Scientific studies over the past decade have documented range-wide population declines and significant range contractions for the eastern diamondback. In 2011 the Center — along with allies and Dr. Bruce Means, an expert on eastern diamondbacks — filed a petition to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act. In 2012 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.

“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 Adkins. “I hope Whigham roundup sponsors will soon realize they don't need to hurt these rare animals to have a successful community festival.”

Eastern diamondbacks are the largest rattlesnakes 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. 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.

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.

Eastern diamondback rattlesnake

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

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.2 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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