Rattlesnake Defense Fund
What is the Rattlesnake Defense Fund?
The Rattlesnake Defense Fund is established to be used for litigation in defense of rattlesnakes. Donations received for the Rattlesnake Defense Fund are placed in a restricted funds account, which are used exclusively for litigation fees, attorneys fees, and lobbying legislatures to establish bag limits, ban gassing, and stop rattlesnake roundups. Our team is committed to full transparency of how funds are being used and what funds have been raised.
Rattlesnakes can't speak for themselves, so we are giving them a voice! To donate directly to the Rattlesnake Defense Fund, you can donate here or click the button below!
What are rattlesnake roundups?
Rattlesnake roundups are large scale "festival" type events that are intended to eradicate rattlesnakes. These events are cruel, unnecessary, and are against all hunters' ethics. The deaths of these animals are exploited at these events, where children hand paint on a wall with fresh snake blood and partially restrained rattlesnakes are draped over the necks of adults and children.
The largest rattlesnake roundup in the world, hosted by the Sweetwater Jaycees, is the Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup in Texas. So many rattlesnakes are collected every year that the organizers count the numbers of snakes collected for slaughter in pounds, rather than counting individual snakes. Every year, anywhere from 1,500-5,000 pounds of rattlesnakes, which equates to anywhere from 1,000-2,500 snakes are executed on display for public entertainment; although we don't know the true number of snakes due to the variability in weights of snakes.
The slaughter of snakes at these events are carried out with a machete, ensuring a prolonged and painful death for snakes that had the unfortunate happenstance of being collected for the event. Not only will they be subjected to a painful and cruel death, their journey to the rattlesnake roundup is filled with disgusting and cramped conditions.
Beginning from the time of collection, these animals are abused the whole way to the roundup. Beginning months before the roundup, snakes are collected through a variety of unethical means, principally through a method called "gassing" - which is exactly what it sounds like. Snakes are subjected to using gasoline sprayed down burrows, crevices, and other hibernacula critters use to hide in. The gasoline fumes are strong enough that the animal rushes out of their hiding place and right into the clamping jaws of snake tongs or snare poles used by snake collectors.
After being subjected to gasoline fumes and being roughly handled (quite possibly causing serious injuries, such as broken bones), rattlesnakes are shoved into a tiny transport box. These transport boxes are often flimsy home made boxes that are designed to hold the maximum number of rattlesnakes possible. Upon arriving inside the transport container, rattlesnakes are subjected to cramped conditions where they will be contained for quite possibly months before ever being brought to the roundup to finally be slaughtered. During their time spent "in the box", they are not provided food, water, and live in the excrement of themselves and other snakes.
Here is the kicker though, after living in disgusting conditions for months and finally being brought to slaughter, the meat is then sold at the event and donated for consumption by the community. We don't know about you, but eating animals laden with gasoline, excrement, and who knows what other conditions, that meat can't possibly be that "tasty" or healthy, despite what is claimed by roundup supporters.
At the Sweetwater Roundup, hundreds of rattlesnakes are piled on top of eachother in "pits" and subjected to harassment by "handlers" for public exhibition.
Is rattlesnake venom from roundups used for antivenom production or pharmaceutical research benefitting humans?
As you might imagine, roundup supporters don't say anything about the conditions rattlesnakes are kept in or acknowledge the unethical slaughter methods. Instead, you are likely to be met with a propaganda that has been carefully crafted by roundup proponents to shape the narrative in their favor. They often use some proceeds from these events to support emotionally charged issues, such as supporting Cancer Research - so of course if you speak out, you must be against helping kids with cancer! Nevermind the means they used to get that money...
The propaganda often spouted by so called "experts" will boldly claim that they are doing a public service. The biggest claim they like to lean on is that they donate venom from the event to antivenom production and research using venoms. As you might imagine, this presents a huge ethical issue for any commercial entity or researcher. To their credit, Wyeth Laboratories years ago was known to use venom collected at Sweetwater but has since gone out of business.
Dennis Cumbie milks a snake at the roundup. (Nellie Doneva/The Abilene Reporter-News via AP)
However, the two largest antivenom companies in the U.S., BTG International and Rare Disease Therapeutics, both categorically deny and have made statements that no venom from these events are used in antivenom production today or in recent history. BTG International shows on their website that snake venom production occurs at their two laboratories in the United States, not from roundups. Rare Disease Therapeutics has also directly told our staff they do not accept venom from rattlesnake roundups. There is no shortage of western diamondback rattlesnake venom in the U.S. and venom production laboratories operated by these companies or by third party contractors are more than able to keep up with production.
The Sweetwater "Jayteens" skin rattlesnakes on display in unsanitary conditions, literally just tossing entrails into a rusty metal barrel.
Along the same lines, champions of roundups will often claim that venom collected from western diamondback rattlesnakes (Crotalus atrox) at the event is the primary source for venom for the species used by pharmaceutical companies. Although there are many drugs developed from venomous snakes, our team has not identified any pharmaceutical companies that currently purchase or use venom collected at roundups for research purposes.
The biodiversity of venom phenotypes is certainly a source of inspiration and scientific research leading to pharmaceutical breakthroughs. However, to date, no current medication uses western diamondback rattlesnake venom collected from rattlesnake roundups. Venom from the dusky pygmy rattlesnakes (Sistrurus miliarius barbouri) was used in development of the platelet aggregation inhibit Integrillin (eptifibatide) and is used to save lives in hospitals around the world. However, dusky pygmy rattlesnakes do not occur within the collection areas of Sweetwater Roundup and venom from the species is not extracted at the event. Similarly, Captopril, an ACE inhibitor, was developed from prototypes based on venom from the South American Jaraca (Bothrops jaraca). Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup has not contributed to the efforts to develop these medications.
Should rattlesnakes be managed the same way deer and other game species are?
Many people are likely familiar with population management of deer on public and private lands. You might even come to the same conclusion about rattlesnakes, believing that they need to be managed. However, unlike deer, a dense population of rattlesnakes is not going to destroy the landscape or disrupt local ecosystems. At first glance, one might think an area is overpopulated compared to living in the city. Taking into account that areas where rattlesnakes are collected for roundups are very low density rural areas, rattlesnake populations are likely to be at "natural" levels - which certainly would be more than what might see living in suburbia.
Rattlesnakes have very low recruitment rates, seeing as they are food for almost every predator larger than themselves, are subjected to manmade pressures (roads, roundups, indiscriminate killing in backyards, dogs, pollution, and everything in-between). Even absent manmade pressures, survival rate of rattlesnakes in their first year of life are only about 65%. Female rattlesnakes do not reach sexual maturity for several years, depending on the availability of resources, and may only give birth every 3-4 years. Rattlesnakes are viviparous, meaning they give birth to live young and have a rudimentary placenta, and expend a significant amount of energy on reproduction. The energy taken to reproduce increases the likelihood of mortality and means that the species effectively reproduces only when sufficient resources are available.
Given all of the challenges it takes for a rattlesnake to make it to adulthood, the likelihood of overpopulating an area is slim. Rattlesnake populations are likely to self correct when resources are not sufficient to sustain the population and will eventually reach carrying capacity, which is not "overpopulation," rather the species is occurring at natural densities. Many claim seeing any rattlesnakes is considered overpopulation and favor an eradication approach.
Despite all of the pressures on rattlesnakes, very few states have bag limits or regulate the amount of rattlesnakes that can be collected annually. As you might have guessed, Texas does not regulate the number of rattlesnakes that can be collected annually nor do they track the number of snakes hunted or collected for roundups. Texas Parks and Wildlife does their best to estimate the number of snakes collected for Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup, but they have to rely on incomplete and inconsistent data that is not always reported.
What efforts have been made to change roundups?
For years, our team and many other organizations have tried taking the high road to work with roundup organizers. Rattlesnake roundups in Georgia, which similarly collected rattlesnakes, have all transitioned to festivals where snakes get to go home at the end of the day. What is even better is that these events still garner huge public support, generate as much revenue (if not more) than previous years as "kill" festivals, and receive support from Georgia Department of Natural Resources and countless non-profit organizations. Of course, many groups have tried approaching Sweetwater Jaycees to pitch transitioning their roundup to a festival, but as you might imagine the tradition of carrying on these "kill" festivals is deeply rooted in the community and they have shown no sign of changing any time soon.
Back in 2017, there was a huge public push by many partners to ban "gassing" in the State of Texas. This movement garnered significant public support and looked like it was going to pass legislature. Unfortunately, some corrupt politicians killed the bill in the final hours and the ban never passed. You would think that banning spraying gas on wildlife would be a slam dunk of legislation, but the people of the Sweetwater Jaycees are well connected in the political arena and are skilled at lobbying for their cause - often preying on the peoples fears and knowing full well that the threat of voting a politician out of office will bend them to their will.
Staff and volunteers from The Rattlesnake Conservancy support events like Lone Star Rattlesnake Days to provide educational opportunities that are alternatives to the rattlesnake roundups.
On the ground efforts from groups like the Rattlesnake Preservation Trust in Texas provide humane alternatives to rattlesnake roundups at events like Lone Star Rattlesnake Days. Other similar events based out of Georgia and Florida that were historically roundups have transitioned to conservation festivals, where wildlife conservation organizations provide educational presentations and the community is still able to retain an event to bring revenue to their community.
What companies and organizations have taken a position against rattlesnake roundups?
The following organizations have publicly spoken out against rattlesnake roundups:
Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Zoological Association of America
Center for Biological Diversity
Association of Reptile and Amphibian Veterinarians
The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
The Rattlesnake Preservation Trust
The Rattlesnake Conservancy
What is being done differently now and how will my donations be used to that end?
Historically, efforts to either shutdown rattlesnake roundups or transition them to a conservation festival have been primarily through legislative lobbying, protests, and petitions. Because gassing and hunting of rattlesnakes in Texas are not illegal, rattlesnake roundup organizers and others felt they have not broken any laws. However, roundup organizers throughout the country having been violating the Federal Animal Welfare Act and Preventing Animal Cruelty Act of 2019 (signed into law by President Trump). The absolute blatant disregard for animal welfare at these events is completely illegal, which has been further enforced by the passing of the Preventing Animal Cruelty Act.
The Rattlesnake Conservancy plans to hold the USDA responsible for not enforcing these laws.
Furthermore, the States of Alabama, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas have all failed to manage rattlesnake hunting by establishing bag limits, gather collection data, or otherwise prevent overharvest of rattlesnakes. The State of Alabama laudably passed regulations that prohibit the sale, offer for sale or trade of anything of value or possession of any live eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus) without a permit. Unfortunately, the State of Alabama has yet to enforce this new regulation on the Opp Rattlesnake Roundup, which still collects eastern diamondback rattlesnakes. Eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are currently under consideration for listing to the Endangered Species Act by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We anticipate a listing decision will be made by 2024.
Venomous training instructor, Chase Pirtle, and Collections Manager for Ashton Biological Preserve, pictured delivered an educational presentation for The Rattlesnake Conservancy.
The Rattlesnake Conservancy plans to pursue litigation and lobbying efforts in states where rattlesnake roundups occur to enforce existing regulations, establish regulations to manage the species either as a game species with big limits or as a non-game species and prohibit collection without a valid permit and legitimate reason for collection.
In addition to ongoing litigation and lobbying efforts, The Rattlesnake Conservancy plans to launch comprehensive marketing and education campaigns in these communities to change the narrative, correct misinformation and fake news, and ultimately do everything in our power to hold roundup organizers responsible for the atrocities they are committing in the public eye. Lobbying and litigation are expensive, so we need your help to raise $100,000 to bring a stop to "kill" type rattlesnake roundups.
Our organization is committed to working with roundup organizers that make the decision to transition to a festival type event where snakes are not killed. We pledge all the resources at our disposal to bring captive rattlesnakes for educational displays, provide educator resources, and conduct educational presentations at these events in support of their programs.
Lastly, The Rattlesnake Conservancy will call on conservation partners that have taken strong stances against rattlesnake roundups to financially and publicly support efforts to shut down the cruel practices of rattlesnake roundups.