So in June of 2012 I did a piece on the Animal Planet Show Rattlesnake Republic ‘actors’ participating at Viper Day which was held at the Texas Zoo. You can read the original article here if you like Rattlesnake Slaughter at the Texas Zoo! The gist of this piece was this; a zoo, which in my observation, is designed and established to protect and conserve animals was hosting someone who slaughters rattlesnakes and destroys the snakes native habitats. This was/is simply mind-boggling to me.
Fast forward almost one and one half years and someone noticed that I was speaking out against them and their practices. Eric Timaeus of Sweetwater Rattlesnake Roundup infamy contacted me on August 30th this year to express his views on the article. The following is not edited in any way and is a direct quote of the entire message itself.
“If you had taken the time to see what was actually presented at the Zoo you are slandering, maybe you would rethink your posting. The presentation was pure education about snakes, their conservation, and how to deal with them when found. You are probably a hypocrit. Ask yourself a question. How are you exploiting reptiles/animals? More than likely most of the animals you have will die, most of the ones you sell will die, and usually it is a long lingering death through starvation or sickness. If not, your business would not sustain itself. So, next time you feel like disparaging another entity or person maybe you should reflect on yourself and then jump on your “high horse” and ride off into the sunset.”
In order to respond to this properly, I have asked Chris Law better known as the Conscious Keeper to assist me with this article. You may already know Chris and his public educational programs via his company Central Florida Zoological Services. So, away we go.
Eric, where do I even begin with your statement. First of all, let’s properly define ‘slander’ shall we? Slander is the action of making a false spoken statement damaging a person’s reputation. To clarify. Number 1, I never spoke your name. Number 2, I made not one false statement anywhere and have documented videos only of one of which was shared to substantiate my statements. Just in case my readers would like further evidence. Here’s a great link showing how you personally treat wild animals, specifically rattlesnakes, featured in the New York Times!
In regards to the event being one of conservation. You claim to promote conservation but participate in an event that murders thousands of pounds of wild rattlesnakes every year.
You asked me directly how I was ‘exploiting reptiles/animals.’ I don’t ‘exploit’ animals period. I attempt to educate those who own reptiles and invertebrates on how to enrich the animals lives in a captive environment and care for their animals. You then go on to claim that “most likely most of the animals I have will die, most of the ones I sell will die, and it is a long lingering death through starvation or sickness.”
As a matter of fact, I have lost some animals over the decade plus years I’ve been keeping reptiles. They have passed from old age. Any animals I have sold have lived long and healthy lives. That said, I haven’t sold animals in almost nine years. This is because I would rather educate the public than add to the current market of reptiles which is already doing well.
As far as ‘reflecting’ on myself and jumping on a ‘high-horse’. I write the truth Eric Timaeus, if you have an issue with my factual statements then I hereby ask you, here and now refute the facts I’ve stated publicly. Better yet, let’s take a look at the four or more videos of what really happens at Sweetwater Texas Rattlesnake Roundups where you are the reigning champion of what nine years now? I have never tortured an animal for food much less making a public spectacle for sport! With that, I will now ask my longtime colleague Chris Law to add to this:
For starters, let me thank you for taking the time to address John’s post. One of the things that I’ve felt has always hindered progress between our two groups is our often inability to have polite and respectful conversation. Both sides are equally responsible for this, and nothing will change nor will anyone take the time to understand the other while this form of dialogue continues taking place. Rattlesnake roundups and the events that take place within them bring about a lot of emotion from both sides. When emotion takes hold, a brick wall often goes up and any ability to reason goes out the window. This needs to change and I’d like to initiate that change now.
I’d like to address a couple of your comments that were directed towards John, but I’m sure were intended to cover everyone that breeds/sells reptiles. You stated,
“Ask yourself a question. How are you exploiting reptiles/animals? More than likely most of the animals you have will die, most of the ones you sell will die, and usually it is a long lingering death through starvation or sickness. If not, your business would not sustain itself.”
I can assure you that it is quite the opposite. While John and I would readily agree that the reptile industry has its fair share of unscrupulous breeders and dealers (doesn’t every industry?), that is not how the reptile community as a whole operates. Many of us provide life-long homes for our animals. We pride ourselves in quality captive bred reptiles that reduce the pressure on wild populations so that fewer are collected (and many species no longer are) from the wild. Those animals do much better in a captive environment because being born into captivity removes a great deal of the stress factor that often kills wild caught reptiles.
Further, the fact that captive breeding has taken hold demonstrates that we have been successful in understanding the animal’s husbandry and reproductive requirements so that they can be successfully raised to adulthood and the process may be repeated for a new generation. Further, it is simple ethics to ensure that any animal within your care is getting the very best you are able to offer it. It is true that many “pet store” reptiles suffer the fate that you described, but it is not because the reptile community has sought to that end. It is because the large pet store chains seek cheap and available pets, and their staff are almost always poorly trained or not trained at all as to their husbandry requirements. When the staff aren’t trained and educated, then neither are the customers and the animal suffers. This is something that the reptile community as a collective has fought against, much like with rattlesnake roundups, to little avail. Yet we continue on, fighting as best we can for that change.Decapitated snake taunt
Your business and popularity all stem from your success in doing something that directly seeks to harm an animal, usually for unjust reasons. It is one thing if someone kills a snake that they found on their property by decapitation, but it is another to actively seek them out, collect them in excessive numbers only to lead them to torture and slaughter. Many of us are outdoorsmen. Some of us hunt and/or fish on top of being passionate about keeping, breeding and educating people about reptiles. As such, killing an animal occasionally for the purpose of providing yourself or family with meat to place on a dinner table isn’t outside of the realm of acceptance. However, hunters are intended to be the original conservationist. The intention is to take only what is necessary, when is necessary and leave all else to its own. Very few people who taste rattlesnake at these events actually like it. It’s not something that they would do on a regular basis. Much of these animals just simply goes to waste.
As conservationists, we believe in sustainable use. But we also believe in humane and ethical treatment. Animals should be killed as quickly as possible, with pain or torment being reduced to a negligible level, if existing at all. At roundup events, that is not the case for these animals. Just because these animals are incapable of screaming out in pain, does not mean that they are equally incapable of feeling it. Mammals have a very responsive nervous system. As such, if they are decapitated, the heart immediately shuts down and the brain ceases to acquire oxygenated blood and subsequently dies. Reptiles, however, have very slow nervous systems that coincide with their slow metabolic patterns that run it. Put very simply, when they are decapitated, their brains are still capable of responding, telling it to fear what is around it and whatever chemical signals remain in connection with the severed tissue, send it information that it is in pain. This isn’t humane treatment…this is torture. This is irresponsible and unethical as an animal professional and an outdoorsman. As a person, it is simply inhumane treatment to this animal.
Let’s assume that Sweetwater decided to revamp their killing methods, deciding to pith the brains of the rattlesnakes to ensure a quick and painless death. While that would technically be considered humane…the issue of ecological health is still in the balance. Every year, thousands of rattlesnakes are captured for these events. Despite claims by practically every rattlesnake roundup in the west that they are sustainable, the fact that a fair percentage of rattlesnakes have had to be trucked in from surrounding states in order to ensure that you have enough present for your festival, surely demonstrates that they aren’t near as plentiful as you might want everyone to believe.
Assuming that you would even agree with the above statement, I’d beg to offer examples of the Timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) and the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus). Both species used to be quite plentiful throughout their respective ranges. Due to human encroachment on habitat for a variety of purposes, along with collection for rattlesnake roundups, populations of both species has taken a serious hit. Collection in mass numbers and removing practically every animal seen in a geographic location affects the potential for genetic diversity. Genetic diversity is the vehicle for adaptation. It helps a population respond to and hopefully survive an environmental change. Failure to have the genetic diversity to allow this, results in a population potentially going extinct only further leading to the demise of the species.
For many snake-hating people, the extinction of rattlesnakes probably doesn’t sound like a bad option. In fact, they would likely even throw a celebration of sorts…at least until the rodent population booms off the charts and they begin chewing up your home or destroying crops. At which point, humans will respond with traps and poisons in order to keep them in check, whereupon they will cause second-hand poisoning of other species who try to consume the dead carcasses and causes a total ecological collapse…all because people don’t like snakes and don’t want to take the time to learn about them.
Now, let’s go one step further. Disregarding anything in relation to ecological health, let’s get to other benefits. Should Dusky pygmy rattlesnakes be collected in mass and treated like the Western Diamondback? Is it okay if they go extinct or suffer severe population decline from habitat loss and over-harvest?
What about the hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of people who rely on a particular medicine, Eptifibatide, that was derived from compounds found in their venom? Eptifibatide is a blood thinning agent that prevents blood clots that could have caused a massive heart attack. It saves far more lives every year than rattlesnakes of all species collectively take in a century.
If these animals were wiped off the map before we made that discovery, who knows where we would be in the medical field at this point. The pygmy rattlesnake is only one example. Snake venoms from all over the world are being studied for pharmaceutical research. Prairie rattlesnakes have a venom being studied as an anticoagulant for infectious endocarditis. Are you a breast man, Eric? How do you feel about the topic of breast cancer? Well, Agkistrodon c. contortrix’s (Southern Copperhead) venom says,
“Not on my watch!”
The above are only a few small examples, when there is actually a laundry list of species and their venoms that are being put to the test in saving human lives, or at the very least making them more manageable for those who have chronic illnesses and other ailments. If we treat them like they are disposable and inconsequential to our existence, we will likely soon find out the hard way just how wrong we were.
Of course, there’s always someone who makes the statement,
“Well, for those that we need for medical research purposes they can be kept and bred in captivity.”
Yes, they can. In fact, they almost always are. You don’t really think that we go out and collect continuously for every snake that needs to be milked for venom, do you? Of course not. They are kept and bred in captivity, but remember the genetic diversity discussion from earlier?
That still applies in captivity just as much as it does in the wild. It may not be as vital in captivity for the purposes of adaptation, but it is for specimen health. While reptiles can typically endure a little inbreeding, it cannot be a generation after generation practice. Fresh genetics is always important, regardless what is being bred. That genetic diversity comes from the environment, where the animals are free to live their lives and be a functioning member of the ecosystem that inevitably supports human health.
Eradication of snakes through mass slaughter helps no one. It’s not entertaining. It’s not humane. It’s not ethical. If you have conflicts with rattlesnakes, there are more ethical ways to deal with it. Please feel free to check my website for some simple suggestions that help reduce the possibility that you can encounter more than your fair share of rattlesnakes on your property. Being that my company is based in Florida, there is a bit of a habitat difference that these animals use for their survival, but some of the recommendations are universal. We are also quite sure that you are familiar with some of these methods and probably recommend them often to your clients. I feel that it would be truly great if reptile conservationists and those who promote rattlesnake roundups could have a more open dialogue and come to some agreements that could help one another. It would be great for the rattlesnakes and great for people. A win/win situation is always of highest value.
I appreciate you taking the time to hear us out. We hope that at some point, we can all work together towards progress for wildlife and conservation, while providing services to people who fail to understand them.
For further reference:
Rise Against Rattlesnake Roundups website