By the time the audience gets settled down and the barrels are rolled out, most of the snakes couldn’t attack if they wanted to. They’re starved and weakened, dehydrated, half-suffocated. Sometimes, they’re completely suffocated, because there isn’t a lot of air when you’re at the bottom of the tank, locked in and trapped under the bodies of dozens like you.
Welcome to a rattlesnake roundup, where you can get up close and personal with hundreds of rattlesnakes that have been gassed out of their burrows.
What happens there can be sickening. The snakes’ rattles are ripped off while the snake is still alive and passed out to kids as souvenirs. Other snakes are decapitated in front of the crowd. Some have liquor poured down their throats, or are burned with cigarettes. They’re kicked and stomped. Pregnant females are especially popular.
As near as history can tell, rattlesnake roundups started in Oklahoma in the 1930s and 1940s. The practice spread to the Southeast, especially South Georgia and North Florida, where there were plenty of Eastern Diamondbacks rattlers. Nowadays, the show continues in Alabama and Georgia but thanks to continuing habitat encroachment by humans, rattlers are a little bit harder to find. It’s not an insurmountable problem for roundup promoters. Just head out into the woods, find a gopher tortoise burrow (Eastern Diamondbacks live with gopher tortoises) and douse it liberally with gasoline. The half-stunned snakes come out of the burrow, you scoop them up, throw them in a box, and transport them to the show — and let the games begin. (The burrows remain uninhabitable for years.)
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