Letter: Stop publishing snake-killing articles

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2018


I had hoped the days of seeing dead snake photos in the paper were over, but then I saw a dead Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake on the front page of the Friday Andalusia Star. Folks in this area kill snakes all the time, so it did not really qualify as news, which is why I found your editorial decision to run it surprising and disappointing. By featuring this incident, the Star does a disservice to both its readers and wildlife by reinforcing the societal norm of snake-killing, as it is far riskier to try to kill a rattlesnake (especially in close quarters) than to leave it alone. Many if not most snake bites occur when the snake is being “messed with,” and this man pinned the snake under a tractor tire and then spent 10 to 15 minutes killing it with a stick. If he’d been bitten you couldn’t much blame the snake!

Those of us who defend snakes are decidedly in the minority, and I don’t expect to change the “only good snake is a dead snake” attitude (but it’s still wrong). The man was legally within his right, as the Eastern Diamondback is not well-protected, despite being considered a Species of High Conservation Concern by ADCNR. You cannot possess a live one without a permit, nor can you sell one. But killing one on your own property is legal. We see them on our place, along with gopher tortoises and several other snake species, but we just watch our step and leave them alone.

One thing the snake-killer said struck me as ironic: “Our kids ride four wheelers and play on golf carts and that is a lot of where the snakes were.” It made me wonder how old those kids are and to ponder the comparative risks of riding four-wheelers vs. encountering rattlesnakes. Both can be deadly, no doubt, but one is far worse. In 1974, an Opp boy was tragically bitten and killed by an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. I am aware of no snakebite fatalities in the county in the intervening 44 years, but as I searched the Star’s archived online articles, I see that in just the past seven years at least two Covington County children have been killed in ATV accidents: a 13-year-old Opp boy and a 14-year- old Garden girl.

During that same period, two young sisters, an 11-year-old boy, and a 13-year-old boy were seriously injured in three separate Covington County ATV accidents. I am talking about children only; several local adults have been killed or seriously injured on ATVs in recent years as well. We tend to be bad at judging risk—the ATV in your garage is many times more likely to kill you than a snake.

Because we have quality medical care, the chances of dying from a venomous snakebite in the United States is nearly zero. Fewer than one in 37,500 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year (7-8,000 bites per year), and only one in 50 million Americans will die from snakebite (5-6 fatalities per year).

Rattlesnakes serve a role in the ecosystem and their decline concerns me. I live in the Conecuh National Forest, and I have not seen a rattlesnake this year. But I just got a call from a friend who tried to prevent a man from killing a diamondback on Open Pond Road this afternoon. If this was in the Wildlife Management Area, it was illegal, as all wildlife is protected there. This man probably didn’t read your article, and if he had, it likely would not have affected his behavior. But as long as newspapers continue to glorify the killing of snakes, people are going to feel it’s the right thing to do, when in the vast majority of cases, it’s not, plus it’s putting one at unnecessary risk. Please let this be the last time a “snake-killing article” is featured in the Star.

Mark Bailey