Rattlesnake Rodeo critics miss other side

Published 12:25 am Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Driving to Opp on Saturday, the clouds had convinced me that the turnout for the annual Rattlesnake Rodeo wouldn’t be good.

Boy, was I wrong!

There were tons of cars parked on each side of Channell-Lee Stadium.

This was my sixth rodeo to cover and the largest crowd I’ve seen, despite the weather.

There is fun to be had for everyone, from local and national entertainment, buck dancing competitions, greasy poll climbs, inflatables, zip lines to obstacles course-like events, arts and crafts vendors, and an array of food options.

Resident snake handlers talk about the importance of the Eastern diamondback rattlesnake in the ecosystem, the dangers of the animal and more.

Heck, I even had my photo taken with one of the rodeo headliners. Yes, an Eastern diamondback. Eeek!

The entertainment also offers something for nearly everyone, from country to oldies to Christian, which was really the highlight of this year’s event.

It’s a festival that only folks from “around here” or people who know the facts about the rodeo can grasp.

Every year prior to the rodeo, local news media are bombarded by letters to the editor or press releases from the Center for Biological Diversity.

This group often writes how the rodeo encourages the public to pick-up the lethal reptiles; how no one cares about snake races and how the snakes are persecuted.

The group has also chastised rodeo officials for “gassing” gopher tortoise burrows while hunting snakes for the event.

While I certainly cannot speak for every single snake hunter who contributes to the rodeo, I have spent several hours snake hunting with local snake handlers, and they never used gas in any tortoise burrow.

This year, the snake handlers collected 89 rattlers – 88 Eastern diamondbacks and one timber rattlesnake.

Those snakes will be given to an area venom dealer who will milk the venom.

Liquid venom is shipped to pharmaceutical companies and researchers to make antidotes for snake bites, and in research for treatment of ailments such as strokes, osteoporosis, heart disease and more.

On the day of the rodeo, handlers talk to event goers about the size of the snake, how to tell the difference between males and females and about the different types of bites.

Additionally, snake handlers discuss what people who come across a rattler in the woods should do, which is to be still.

So, while the rodeo may have its roots in what some consider the inhumane treatment of rattlers, that’s not the case now.

All in all, the event provides a fun, family-friendly environment in a community that needs to generate revenue, while educating the public on a crucial part of our ecosystem.