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Destruction of wildlife habitats should not be supported in a festival

It's that time of year again, when people congregate in a few scattered festivals across the Southeastern United States to celebrate the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. Well, I guess celebrate isn't the right word, since the snakes are eventually slaughtered.

I certainly understand why people wouldn't want rattlesnakes in their yard, but I'm not quite sure I understand the appeal in capturing snakes in the wild, far from human establishment, only to kill them. I remain unconvinced by claims that these rattlesnakes serve some greater purpose, with their venom being important for medical research. Why wouldn't captive rattlesnakes serve the same purpose? And what companies are buying venom for research from a weekend festival in small town U.S.A.?

I concede rattlesnakes aren't particularly loved by many, and catching them for roundups isn't illegal -- unless of course, while catching rattlesnakes you deal irreparable harm to other protected creatures or their habitats. In the past, pouring gasoline down gopher tortoise burrows was a popular method of catching rattlesnakes. Groggy from the fumes, snakes leave the burrow and are easily bagged. You probably know tortoises are increasingly rare, being federally protected in the Western portion of their range and a candidate for listing everywhere else.

Publicly, rattlesnake hunters will never acknowledge they continue to catch rattlesnakes by pouring gasoline down gopher tortoise burrows, an illegal practice. Although, an individual associated with one of the remaining roundups admitted to me the practice still occurs. But I admit anonymous sources don't carry a lot of weight. That's why I recently read with interest about a few people cited for destroying wildlife habitat in Silver Lake Wildlife Management Area, in Georgia, on Jan. 28.

These individuals admitted they were catching rattlesnakes by pouring gasoline down tortoise burrows. This should be clear and unequivocal evidence that people are still pouring gasoline down tortoise burrows in areas where we hunt, fish and recreate.

So here we are, time for the annual rattlesnake "festivals" again. If you plan to attend, feel free, but go with full knowledge of what you're supporting with your money. All remaining roundups in the Southeast have been approached by multiple organizations and individuals eager to help them transition from events that sponsor rattlesnake capture and killing to more wildlife friendly events. Because they're important to local communities, nobody wants these festivals shut down, but there are compromises that will help ensure the integrity of our natural habitats and wildlife. Perhaps you've attended Fitzgerald Georgia's annual festival (a former roundup) or St. Antonio Florida's rattlesnake celebration.

Whether you hate rattlesnakes or love them, I think it's time we all agree that wanton destruction of wildlife and their habitats is not something we should support.

David A. Steen can be reached at davidasteen@gmail.com.