Wednesday 16 March 2016

Rattlesnake roundup draws big crowds, and critics, to small Texas town

More than 20,000 people are expected to turn out for four days of wrangling, milking and even eating. But opposition from animal welfare groups is mounting

Thursday 10 March 2016 12.53 GMTLast modified on Thursday 10 March 201613.27 GMT

If you are thrilled by the idea of gawping at a giant vat of writhing rattlesnakes, taking part in a rattlesnake-eating competition or witnessing a beauty queen decapitate a rattlesnake, then west Texas is the place to be this weekend.

The world’s largest rattlesnake “roundup” kicks off in the remote town of Sweetwater on Thursday. The four-day event attracted 20,000 paying spectators – double the town’s population – last year, with a bumper haul of snakes set to draw large numbers again this time around.

For a $50 weekend pass, attendees are treated to the sight of rattlesnakes, and plenty of them. An expected 3,000 snakes will be captured from their nearby nests and placed in large pits, where their writhing tangle of bodies will produce a cacophony of rattles.

The public watch as the snakes are weighed, milked of their venom and then removed. The animals are decapitated, their heads and tongues still twitching afterwards, and flayed of their skin. They are fried up in cooking demonstrations for the hungry hordes.

Other attractions include a competition for the longest snake, a snake-eating contest and the “Miss Snake Charmer Pageant”. High school beauty queens are regularly on hand to lop the heads off snakes. A gun and knife show helps round out the entertainment.

The annual Sweetwater event, held by the junior chamber of commerce, or “Jaycees”, has become a part of the fabric of the town, stretching back to to 1958. Organizers claim it’s not only an economic boon for a rural area, it has helped curb rattlesnake numbers and therefore saved life and limb of humans, pets and livestock.

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