Change Rattlesnake Rodeo

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 9, 2013

Here we are, nearly two weeks from the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo, and as of Tuesday there was only one lonely eastern diamondback rattlesnake in the exhibit trailer by Opp City Hall. No need for hand-wringing; everyone knows the Rodeo will be a success even if this is the only snake brought in, which raises the question: Why are they still doing this? The event has matured into something much bigger than a snake hunt. Other southeastern towns that once had rattlesnake “roundups” have wisely morphed into differently-themed events. Claxton, Ga.’s “Rattlesnake Roundup” recently changed to the Claxton Rattlesnake and Wildlife Festival, which will be held this weekend, and no wild snakes will be brought in. They anticipate more than 170 craft and food vendors, wildlife exhibits, educational programs, and participation and support by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Zoo Atlanta, Quail Unlimited, and other conservation-oriented groups. At the San Antonio Florida Rattlesnake Festival (formerly a roundup), education presentations feature snakes that are kept year-round in captivity, the crowd is entertained and children go home with a new appreciation and respect for wildlife. That event draws 30,000 visitors and raises thousands of dollars for local nonprofits.

By becoming more educational and wildlife-friendly, the Opp Rattlesnake Rodeo can be an even greater asset to our community. It doesn’t need to change its name, as other “roundups” have. The Rodeo would benefit greatly from partnerships with entities such as the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Alabama Wildlife Federation, Auburn University, University of Alabama, the Birmingham Zoo, etc., but this will happen only when wild-caught snakes are no longer part of the event, and when truly meaningful educational programs are provided. Previous attempts by some of these “outside agitators” to work with the City have met with resistance, but times are inevitably changing, and hopefully Mayor Bartholomew will be more perceptive and proactive than his predecessors.

Mark Bailey