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Rattlesnake round-ups, also known as rattlesnake rodeos are annual events common in the rural Midwest and Southern United States, where the primary attractions are captured wild rattlesnakes which are displayed and then returned to the wild. Rarely, they are used for food or to create animal products such as snakeskin. Rattlesnake round-ups originated in the first half of the 20th century for adventure and excitement, as well as to achieve local extirpation of perceived pest species. Typically a round-up will also include trade stalls, food, rides, and other features associated with fairs, as well as information on rattlesnake biology, identification, and safety. Round-ups take place in at least ten states, with largest events in Texas and Oklahoma. The largest rattlesnake round-up in the United States is held in Sweetwater, Texas. Held every year since 1958, the event currently attracts approximately 30,000 visitors per year and in 2006 each annual Round-Up was said to result in the capture of 1% of the state's rattlesnake population.
Round-ups have economic and social importance to the communities that hold them. The events often attract thousands of tourists, which can bring hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue into small towns; the Sweetwater Round-Up's economic impact was estimated to exceed US$5 million in 2006. Snake collectors often make large profits selling snakes at the events.
Cash prizes and trophies are often given out to participants in categories like heaviest, longest, or most snakes. These incentives result in all size classes of snakes being targeted equally. Most roundups target the western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox), though some events target prairie rattlesnakes (C. viridis), timber rattlesnakes (C. horridus), or the eastern diamondback rattlesnake (C. adamanteus).
A harvest of several hundred to several thousand kilograms of snakes is typical for many roundups. In Texas, up to 125,000 snakes could have been removed annually from the wild during the 1990s. However, effects of roundups on rattlesnake populations are unclear. Harvest size at roundups is highly variable from year to year but does not show a consistent downward trend, even after decades of annual roundup events in some areas. C. atrox is listed as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, poaching and roundups have been destructive to populations of timber rattlesnakes (C. horridus) in the northeastern United States. Some groups are concerned that C. atrox local populations may be declining rapidly, even if the global population is unaffected. Rattlesnake round-ups became a concern by animal welfare groups and conservationists due to claims of animal cruelty and excessive threat of future endangerment. Some round-ups responded by imposing catch size restrictions or other limitations. It is important to note that the policy of most round-ups is to return captured snakes to their habitat after the event's conclusion.
- Means, B. 2009. Effects of rattlesnake roundups on the eastern diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus). Herpetological Conservation and Biology 4:132-141.
- "Noxen Rattlesnake Roundup". Noxen, Pa. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
- Arena, Phillip C. et al. (1995). "Rattlesnake Round-ups". In Knight, Richard L. & Gutzwiller, Kevin J. Wildlife and recreationists: coexistence through management and research. Island Press. pp. 313–322. ISBN 978-1-55963-257-7.
- Fitzgerald, L. A., and C. W. Painter. 2000. Rattlesnake Commercialization: Long-Term Trends, Issues, and Implications for Conservation. Wildlife Society Bulletin 28:235–253.
- "Texas Town Welcomes Rattlesnakes, Handlers". Associated Press. March 11, 2006. Archived from the original on 2006-03-29. Retrieved 2008-02-26.
- Fitch, H.S. 2003. Reproduction in the rattlesnakes of the Sharon Springs, Kansas Roundup. Kansas Journal of Herpetology 8: 23-24.
- Frost, D.R., Hammerson, G.A. & Santos-Barrera, G. 2007. Crotalus atrox. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 11 March 2015.
- "American Society of Ichthyologists and herpetologists position paper on Rattlesnake roundups" (PDF). American Society of Ichthyologists and herpetologists. Retrieved 2008-10-07.
- Rubio, Manny (1998). "Rattlesnake roundups". Rattlesnake: Portrait of a Predator. Smithsonian Books. ISBN 1-56098-808-8.
- "Environmentalists Tackle the Rattlesnake Rodeo". Associated Press. April 21, 2010.
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