Position Statement on the Claxton Rattlesnake & Wildlife Festival
Since 2015, The Rattlesnake Conservancy has proudly worked to carry out our mission of advancing the protection of rattlesnakes, and their habitat, through research and education. Through cooperative efforts with landowners, government agencies, organizations, educational institutions, businesses, and the wildlife conservation community at large we have made meaningful contributions to the conservation of imperiled rattlesnake species and the biodiverse habitats that they, and many other native animals depend on. Our programs focus on research, education and training, land conservation, habitat restoration, and funding opportunities which are designed and intended to provide “on-the-ground” conservation outcomes and positively serve our mission.
For the past several years, our team has been an active partner in several wildlife festivals throughout the nation with a focus on the southeast region. These wildlife festivals often utilize live animals, including animals from our facility, for the purpose of public education. As part of the festivals, our organization and other non-profits, clubs, and government agencies have a unique opportunity to connect with the general public and enhance conservation efforts for snakes and other species. To this end, we have and will continue supporting and participating in festivals or events that promote our mission through the responsible utilization of captive-kept live animals.
Until recently, the principal reformed event The Rattlesnake Conservancy has supported in the southeast is the Claxton Rattlesnake Festival. After their reform from a roundup to a no-kill event in 2012, the Evans County Wildlife Club (ECWC), who organizes the Claxton Rattlesnake Festival, entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) that established agreements of how the festival will conduct business; principally, the assurance from Georgia DNR that there would be at least 40 rattlesnakes on display every year. The agreement allowed the ECWC to collect up to 10 wild rattlesnakes with prior authorization from Georgia DNR, in the event that 40 rattlesnakes were not provided for the festival by Georgia DNR and other supporting organizations.
Historically, the Claxton Rattlesnake Festival in Georgia has collected wild rattlesnakes to display at their event every year to date despite having access to captive rattlesnakes. In some cases, the snakes collected for the event are released after the event at the site of capture or elsewhere.
It is our position that collecting wild snakes from the environment for the purpose of these events has a demonstrably negative effect on wild populations, is exploitative in nature, can introduce new pathogens into the environment, is hazardous to the ecosystem, is often detrimental to the habitat that many animals depend on, and does not align with our mission.
In the past, our team has attended the event with a display of captive rattlesnake species as well as donated a large number of rattlesnakes to be housed and cared for at the Chehaw Park & Zoo to ensure that there’s a sustainable, captive colony of rattlesnakes that can be used in this event. We’ve gone through tremendous efforts to support the event and to continue engaging the public in a good faith attempt to coordinate with the organizers in a mutually beneficial advisory capacity that would serve to improve practices and outcomes for the future while also promoting the conservation of rattlesnakes. These efforts drain significant expenses, resources, and require extraordinary logistical coordination. The Rattlesnake Conservancy does not receive any sort of compensation or reimbursement from the ECWC, Georgia DNR, or any other organization for the expenses we incur in offering captive snakes for this event. This year, through partnerships with private keepers, other institutions, state agencies, and conservationists our organization offered to bring over half of the MOU required rattlesnakes to the event. This effort required traveling throughout the southeast to source these animals, state permitting, incurring insurance costs to cover the liability, travel expenses, transport equipment and supplies, and a significant amount of time and resources. In February of this year, it was communicated to the ECWC through Georgia DNR that The Rattlesnake Conservancy would not participate if there were wild caught rattlesnakes used in the festival. When the ECWC did not respond to multiple emails from our organization and Georgia DNR seeking confirmation of our terms, we called them on the phone directly before we began traveling throughout Florida and Georgia to coordinate the transportation of captive snakes to the event. It was during this phone call that a representative of the ECWC confirmed with our team that they had moved forward with collecting at least one wild rattlesnake.
Subsequently, The Rattlesnake Conservancy confirmed with Georgia DNR that we were unable to support the event but would be happy to help again in future years if the club did not collect wild rattlesnakes. Afterwards, Georgia DNR reached out to our team to seek a path forward with the ECWC. We came to the compromise of offering to still attend and support the event if the ECWC surrendered any wild caught rattlesnakes to DNR officials before the start of the festival. A representative from ECWC confirmed that any wild caught rattlesnakes would be surrendered to Georgia DNR. At this time, we sent one final confirmation to ECWC that confirmed what was previously discussed with Georgia DNR and made it clear that The Rattlesnake Conservancy would not attend the event if wild caught rattlesnakes were used in any way. With that assurance, we moved forward as planned. Our staff traveled in four different vehicles, with four different collections of rattlesnakes, from different locations across the southeast. These individuals attended on a volunteer, unpaid basis, despite commitments to family, jobs, school, and more to attend the festival.
Upon arriving to the event this morning, we were disheartened to discover the ECWC decided to utilize a wild rattlesnake in their "VIP hunt" (which is a demonstration of hunting an eastern diamondback rattlesnake from inside of a simulated gopher tortoise burrow) and beauty pageant. The club had not surrendered any animals to Georgia DNR as was agreed upon by all parties. Additionally, our team waited for three hours to give the ECWC the opportunity to surrender any wild collected snakes so that we could move forward as planned. Unfortunately, no wild collected snakes were surrendered to Georgia DNR and as of the time of this post still have not been. We were heartbroken to have to leave the event after going through so much effort to bring so many captive rattlesnakes that would have made an all-captive event possible. We are deeply saddened by the ECWC’s decision to continue collecting wild rattlesnakes. Because we cannot support their active decision to unnecessarily collect wild rattlesnakes, which has a negative impact on rattlesnakes and the ecosystems they occupy, we will not be supporting the event this year or in the future unless the ECWC makes a commitment to stop collection of wild rattlesnakes.
The Rattlesnake Conservancy asserts that captive-bred and born offspring provide the same educational and entertainment benefit to the general public as those collected from the wild. Additionally, public sentiment encourages sustainable practices, such as using captive bred animals for display. By using these captive collections of rattlesnakes, festivals show their support for continued conservation of wild rattlesnakes and ensure a sustainable supply of snakes for successful future events.
Thank you for your continued support, and we look forward to many more years of promoting wildlife festivals that are committed to sustainable and conservation minded practices.