Annual ‘guests’ arriving for Rattlesnake Rodeo

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 21, 2014

Folks in Opp may have noticed a new addition to city hall over the last week: a row of metal cages housing 34 live rattlesnakes. And that number is continuously growing.

Don Childre shows off one of the 34 rattlesnakes already on display for this year’s Rattlesnake Rodeo.

Don Childre shows off one of the 34 rattlesnakes already on display for this year’s Rattlesnake Rodeo.

To passersby, it may be a shock, but to locals it’s just a sign of the time of year; a reminder that the annual Rattlesnake Rodeo is only months away.

Rodeo coordinator Don Childre said the venomous guests that have made their temporary homes just outside of the mayor’s office have been hunted, trapped and transported to Opp by a small group of hunters that troll a five-county area surrounding the town.

“We used to get around 400 snakes from 30 to 40 hunters,” Childre, who has been handling the reptile responsibilities for 44 years, said. “Now, we have a group of five or six that hunt them and catch them.”

Childre said, not only has the number of snakes brought in for the rodeo changed over the years, but so too has their ultimate end once the festivities conclude.

“There are rodeos out in Texas that kill the snakes, but we don’t do that,” he said. “We used to send them to universities for research, but now we give them to a company that milks them for their venom, so they can make vaccinations for bites.”

Childre said, while the snakes are wild and very poisonous, they are also a big attraction in Opp and are kept in an environment designed to keep them, and onlookers, completely safe.

“We emphasize safety,” he said. “We’ve never had anyone hurt.”

Childre said the rattlers will remain on display, and will likely get more company, between now and the 2014 rodeo, scheduled for April 12 – 13.

We’ll probably get 50 to 60 snakes in all,” Childre said. “We had a girl bring in six yesterday.”

Childre said the serpents will soon take center stage in Opp.

“We usually have 20-to-30 thousand people in town for the rodeo,” he said. “It has really put Opp on the map.”