Dozens of helpful, harmless snakes will be shot this weekend at the Lake Providence Snake Rodeo in northeastern Louisiana. Advocates for Snake Preservation (ASP), a charity dedicated to changing how people view and treat snakes, and Louisiana Amphibian and Reptile Enthusiasts (L.A.R.E.), a group fostering appreciation and conservation of reptiles and amphibians in The Pelican State, want to see all snake rodeos transformed into no-kill, educational festivals where local wildlife is celebrated instead of shot.
Since the mid-1960s, thousands of native snakes have been shot as they basked at the Lake Providence Snake Rodeo. Participants shoot an unlimited number of snakes from their boats and are awarded prizes for killing the most and longest snakes. Unlike traditional game hunting, there are no annual ‘bag’ or ‘take’ limits and no monitoring or reporting to regulate the killing of snakes in Louisiana. Many of the participants in the rodeo are minors, normalizing unsafe behavior and disrespectful attitudes toward wildlife and the natural world for impressionable youth.
“We are examples to our children. How can we invite them to take part in the senseless decimation of any animal population and not expect such behavior to affect other aspects of their lives?”Dennis Morgan, a lifelong resident of St. Bernard Parish with 19 years of experience working in the juvenile justice system.
ASP, L.A.R.E., and more than 1600 supporters, including 900 from Louisiana, are asking the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries for limits on the number of snakes that can be removed from the wild and a ban on events that promote unethical hunting practices and the disrespect, needless slaughter, and wanton waste of native wildlife.
“The senseless snake rodeo is neither sporting nor ecologically sound; it is truly a black mark against northeast Louisiana.”Tom Harmeyer, naturalist and Louisiana resident.
The vast majority of snakes slaughtered at the rodeo are harmless to humans. On average, four out of every five snakes killed at the rodeo are non-venomous. The (misguided) goal of the rodeo is to reduce the number of venomous snakes — Northern Cottonmouths, also known as Water Moccasins — in the lake. But since snakes are not usually identified until after they are killed, all snakes, whether harmless or not, are indiscriminately targeted by participants. Non-venomous snakes pose no threat to people or pets, and all snakes play a vital role in nature as predator and prey. They eat unhealthy fish or disease-carrying rodents and are themselves eaten by birds and mammals. A healthy population of Watersnakes may help limit numbers of Northern Cottonmouths through competition for food, making the rodeo counterproductive to their purported goal.
Wildlife-killing contests like this rodeo contradict principles of ethical hunting that require non-frivolous use of, and sound science to manage, wildlife. Both ethical hunters and conservation scientists recognize the importance of responsible stewardship over all wildlife and ecosystems. Though proponents of the rodeo say it is needed to prevent snake overpopulation, there is no reason to believe that the numbers of Northern Cottonmouths in Lake Providence need to be reduced, nor is there any evidence that the snake rodeo benefits fish, other wildlife, or that ecosystem. Like other wild animals, snake populations are controlled by food availability, predation, and other natural processes like disease.
With nearly 50 native species, snakes are part of Louisiana’s rich natural heritage. Most are harmless and rarely bite people, but even venomous snakes pose very little risk to people. On average, less than six people are killed by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year; five times more Americans are killed by lightning each year than by venomous snakes. Because snakes naturally avoid humans, attempting to chase or kill a snake dramatically increases the risk of being bitten.
“Growing up in the rural south, I recognize the importance of community festivals to our culture and economy, but snake rodeos have been rightfully relegated to a thing of the past in many areas, and the success of rattlesnake roundups that now celebrate, rather than slaughter, native wildlife demonstrate that we can keep our festivals and the income they generate while protecting our natural heritage.”Melissa Amarello, conservation biologist and Executive Director of ASP
About Louisiana Amphibian and Reptile Enthusiasts
L.A.R.E. brings together all those interested in the search for and conservation of Louisiana’s wild amphibians and reptiles through the sharing of discussions, questions, pictures, and trip reports on Facebook, guided field trips, and citizen science projects, while also seizing every opportunity to educate others in order to foster an appreciation for, and thus, promote conservation of Louisiana’s amazing diversity of amphibians and reptiles. L.A.R.E. was founded in 2012 and is based in Louisiana. To learn more about L.A.R.E. and the natural history of reptiles and amphibians in The Pelican State, visit www.louisianaherps.com.
About Advocates for Snake Preservation
ASP promotes compassionate conservation and coexistence with snakes through science, education, and advocacy. As important predators and prey, snakes are an essential part of a vibrant, functioning planet, but negative attitudes about snakes may be the biggest barrier to their conservation. ASP provides solutions to everyday human-snake conflicts that sometimes end badly for people and often prove fatal for snakes and makes snakes more familiar and less scary by busting myths and sharing stories of what snakes are really like. ASP was founded in 2014 and is based in Silver City, New Mexico. For more information, visit www.snakes.ngo.