Thousands of native snakes have been shot at the Lake Providence Snake Rodeo in northeast Louisiana since the mid-1960s. Participants can shoot as many snakes as they want from their boats, and prizes are granted for the most and longest snakes killed.
Louisiana is home to almost 50 different snake species. Some common species, such as Watersnakes and Northern Cottonmouths, give birth to live young and even care for their offspring. By bending snakes longer than themselves (even dangerous ones) into waves, kingsnakes can consume them. When threatened, Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes will lie down on their backs with their tongue hanging out, feigning death.
The great majority of the snakes killed at the rodeo are completely harmless. Non-venomous snakes account for four out of every five snakes killed during the rodeo. The rodeo’s (misguided) purpose is to lower the number of venomous snakes in the lake (Northern Cottonmouths, commonly known as Water Moccasins). However, because snakes aren’t frequently identified until after they’ve been killed, participants target all snakes, whether they’re dangerous or not. Snakes that aren’t poisonous offer no danger to humans or pets, and all snakes serve an important part in nature as predators and prey. They eat disease-carrying rodents or bad fish, and are then devoured by birds or mammals. Through competing for food, a healthy population of watersnakes may help naturally limit the number of Northern Cottonmouths.
Education and common sense keep people safe around snakes
Most snakes in Louisiana are harmless and rarely bite people. Venomous snakes pose virtually no risk to people. On average, 5x more Americans are killed by lightning each year than by venomous snakes. Less than six people are killed by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year, on average, and no one has been killed by a Northern Cottonmouth since 2011. Most bites happen to people who try to handle or kill snakes; the rest are due to people not watching where they put their hands or feet. The best snakebite prevention is being careful and leaving snakes alone.
Events like the Lake Providence Snake Rodeo foster disrespect for wildlife and the natural world. Many of the participants in the rodeo are minors, and it is abhorrent that this behavior is normalized for impressionable youth.
Snakes are an important resource for Louisiana’s native birds
Many raptors are known to prey upon snakes, including swallow-tailed kites and red-tailed hawks. Shed snake skins are a common nest-building material for some passerines and may serve an important role in nestling survival, as snake sheds can deter mammalian predators from nests. Screech owls even bring live snakes to their nests that prey on parasites.
Wildlife-killing contests like this rodeo contradict principles of ethical hunting and science-based conservation.
Snake rodeos violate core guiding principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (non-frivolous use of wildlife, sound science to manage wildlife) and the Boone and Crockett Club (fair chase). 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 maintained by food availability, predation, and other natural processes like disease.
Video taken by rodeo participants in 2018. Remember, if you choose to comment on this video, BE NICE. People are unlikely to change their behavior in response to rude, nasty comments.
Snake rodeos have been rightfully relegated to a thing of the past in many areas, and it is shameful that a Parish-sanctioned snake rodeo exists today in Louisiana.
The unethical slaughter and waste of native wildlife at the Lake Providence Snake Rodeo must end.
Sign this petition to end The Lake Providence Snake Rodeo:
Check out Jason Bittel’s excellent article on Snake Rodeos: Deadly Snake Rodeos: How Are They Still a Thing?
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This article was first published by Livingwithsnakes.org. Lead Image: Southern Watersnake photographed by Julie Dermansky.
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