They’re scaly, venomous and make a truly blood-curdling sound, says Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, but rattlesnakes are no longer public enemy No. 1. Indeed, some people are increasingly “striving to protect them”. This is bad news for the small town of Sweetwater, Texas, self-proclaimed home of the “world’s biggest rattlesnake round-up”.
At the annual gathering, held early each March, hunters pump petrol fumes into burrows to flush out thousands of rattlesnakes so they can be captured and killed. The event has become a big tourist draw, but campaigners are now seeking to ban the gassing of rattlesnake dens on the basis that it is inhumane and injurious to other wildlife. Other states are also taking steps to protect the snakes.Massachusetts wants to create an entire island refuge for them; Illinois is seeking to boost their numbers with a breeding programme.
Fifty years ago, all of this “would have seemed insane”, but it’s about time we were nicer to these reptiles. They’re not nearly as dangerous as people think. Across the US, about five people a year die from snakebites – in most cases, after trying to catch these shy reptiles, often while drunk.
Rattlesnakes may lack the “charismatic appeal” of wolves, bears and mountain lions, but they deserve the same sort of protection: they, too, make America a more interesting, if slightly less safe, place.