Tens of thousands of visitors come down to Sweetwater, Texas, to watch Western diamond rattlesnakes milked for their venom, beheaded and skinned in an annual event.
The Sweetwater’s “World’s Largest Rattlesnake Roundup,” led by the city’s Junior Chamber of Commerce, or also referred to as the Jaycees, comes to an end Sunday. The event involves rounding up the snakes, which are milked for their venom then beheaded and skinned. The people are also allowed to skin the animals themselves and leave handprints on the wall.
As reported by the Christian Science Monitor, rounding up and killing the animals is important so their overpopulation can be controlled. The animals have been known to bite dozens of people and kill livestock each year. As many as 7,000 to 8,000 people in the U.S. are bitten each year by snakes rattlesnakes, copperheads, coral snakes and cottonmouths, the Center for Disease Control said. Of these, about six people die.
In excess of 25,000 visitors, including snake-hunting teams and foreign tourists, attend the annual event. According to the Midland Reporter-Telegram, the event is “a spaghetti of writhing angry reptiles” which has “a strange dense smell with an evil vomit-like edge to it.”
The skin of the rattlesnakes is sold and their meat is used as food. The venom extracted from the animals is used in research.
David Steen, an amphibian and reptiles biologist at Auburn University, dismisses the “human safety” argument, saying that the threat of rattlesnake bite is only to those who interfere with the snakes, such as drunk people and exterminators, the Washington Post reports.
“If you don’t do any of those things, the risks of getting bitten by a snake are really low,” he said. “What does a snake have to gain by attacking you? It’s not going to try to eat you. If we respect their place in the environment and also respect their space, then I think we can live alongside them with no problem at all.”