ATLANTA— Following advocacy by the Center for Biological Diversity and conservation allies, the Whigham Rattlesnake Roundup will hold its first ever wildlife-friendly event this Saturday, March 5. The revamped roundup in Whigham, Georgia, will celebrate snakes instead of collecting and butchering them for their meat and skins.
“We’re delighted that Whigham’s event now celebrates these awe-inspiring snakes and recognizes the importance of respecting and protecting them,” said Elise Bennett, an attorney at the Center. “Whigham’s new vision emphasizes how cruel and antiquated the few remaining roundups are, including the largest one left, in Sweetwater, Texas. It also shows that it's possible to have a change of heart and make compassionate changes for these really misunderstood animals.”
The Whigham Community Club announced on its website the “exciting and creative” decision to no longer catch snakes. Instead the roundup will feature displays and educational programming about the imperiled eastern diamondback rattlesnake and other wildlife, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Quail Forever and Southeastern Reptile Rescue.
A few rattlesnake roundups still persist. The largest — which takes place in Sweetwater, Texas — is notorious for openly killing and skinning western diamondback rattlesnakes by the hundreds in front of crowds. Ecologists and animal rights advocates have criticized the events as inhumane and environmentally harmful.
Rattlesnake roundups deplete populations of eastern diamondback rattlesnakes and harm natural ecosystems. Analysis of data from four roundups in the southeastern United States shows a steady decline in the weights of prize-winning eastern diamondbacks and the number collected.
“I hope Whigham has a record turnout this year,” said Bennett. “It warms my heart to think of so many people coming together to connect with the natural world and maybe gain a new appreciation for rattlers.”
The Whigham Rattlesnake Roundup will be held on March 5, 2022, at the Rattlesnake Roundup Grounds in Whigham. The event is a fundraiser for local youth programs.
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 have documented range-wide population declines and significant range contractions for the eastern diamondback.
This once-common species is being pushed toward extinction not only by hunting pressure but also by habitat loss and road mortality. In response to a Center petition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering whether to protect the snake under the Endangered Species Act.
Despite pervasive public fears, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes pose a very small public-safety risk. More people are killed every year by lightning strikes and bee stings. Those most likely to be bitten are snake handlers who either keep the snakes in captivity or work with them professionally. Still, malicious killings by those who perceive the snakes as a threat are contributing to its decline.