Snake Death Day, something snake lovers wish would end

LAKE PROVIDENCE, La. (AP) — If you’ve heard the saying, “The only good snake is a dead snake,” then a town in northeast Louisiana is the place to be on Saturday.

Lake Providence will revive a tradition dating back to at least the 1960s called the Snake Rodeo. Armed with shotguns, participants will head to the lake and shoot as many snakes as possible.

Sheriff Wydette Williams said the event, organized by his office, is the first since 2019 after subsequent ones were canceled by the pandemic.

Lake Providence, with approximately 3,500 residents, is the parish seat of East Carroll. The city is located along the Mississippi River and next to Oxbow Lake from which it takes its name. Calls from residents for a rodeo often come in the spring, when the river rises and pushes more snakes into the lake, Williams said.

“Our snake problem is getting very serious,” he said. “We frequently have flooded areas.”

Snake lovers and others, however, pleaded with the sheriff to end the rodeo or change it so the snakes weren’t killed. They note that most of the snakes killed are non-venomous and that non-killing events are being adopted by other parts of the country where snake roundups take place.

Williams was unswayed, although he said he had nothing against those who want to protest the event.

“I welcome them,” he said. “They have a right to be here.”

Rodeo rules are simple: two shotguns per boat, shoot as many snakes as you can for five hours, then bring them back to the weigh-in at the end of the event. There are prizes for the team that kills the most snakes and the team that kills the longest snake. There are no limitations on the type or size of snakes, just that they must be dead when measured.

The snake rodeo is not unique to the region. Similar “rodeos” or “roundups” have taken place across the country, even reaching the level of being ridiculed in a 1993 episode of The Simpsons about Springfield’s “Whacking Day.” The most common is a gathering of rattlesnakes, where usually the meat is eaten and the skins are used.

Yet the number of rodeos where snakes are killed has declined as organizers have adopted catch-and-release policies or pursued purely educational goals.

That’s what Brad “Bones” Glorioso would like to see happen in Lake Providence.

Glorioso, herpetologist and founder of Louisiana Amphibian and Reptile Enthusiasts, attended the 2016 rodeo with several live snakes which he showed to interested attendees.

“You hear the tired old phrase that the only good snake is a dead snake,” he said, asking what people would think if you replaced “snake” in that saying with “puppy.”

“That’s how I feel when people say that line to me,” he said.

Glorioso said he wanted to educate people about snakes, not try to stop them from participating in the rodeo. Most of the snakes killed in the Lake Providence rodeo are harmless, he said. Often the snake that wins the prize for being the longest is a rat snake, a non-venomous snake that can grow to over seven feet, he added.

In 2019, of the 134 snakes killed in the rodeo, 88 of them were diamondback water snakes, according to Advocates for Snake Preservation, which called for an end to the rodeo. Only 22 were Northern Cottonmouths, the poisonous water moccasin that inspires fear. J

Glorioso and others have started an online petition to end rodeo, though he thinks simply teaching people about the value of snakes to the local ecosystem has a better chance of achieving that goal.

Snakes, even venomous ones, are essential for maintaining healthy fish stocks by eliminating diseased or weakened fish. The snakes are also preyed upon by an array of Louisiana birds, including hawks and herons, he said.

“There’s no evidence that what they’re doing has any beneficial effect,” Glorioso said.

Glorioso, who said he doesn’t plan to attend this year’s rodeo, said people just need to learn to live with snakes and other creepy animals instead of shooting them on sight.

“We have to coexist with these animals,” he said. “Snakes need love the most because they get the most hate.”

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