Since the mid-1960s, thousands of native snakes have been shot as they basked at the Lake Providence Snake Rodeo in northeast Louisiana. Participants shoot an unlimited number of snakes from their boats and are awarded prizes for killing the most and longest snakes.
Snakes are part of Louisiana’s rich natural heritage
Louisiana is blessed with nearly 50 species of snakes. Some common species, like Watersnakes and Northern Cottonmouths, give birth to live young; Northern Cottonmouths even care for their babies. Kingsnakes can eat snakes longer than themselves (even venomous ones) by bending them into waves. But perhaps most fascinating, when threatened, Eastern Hog-nosed Snakes will lay belly-up with their tongue hanging out to feign death.
The vast majority of snakes slaughtered at the rodeo are harmless. On average, 4 out of every 5 snakes killed at the rodeo are non-venomous. The (misguided) goal of the rodeo is to reduce the number of venomous snakes (Northern Cottonmouths, also known as Water Moccasins) in the lake. But since snakes are not usually identified until after they are killed, all snakes, whether harmless or not, are indiscriminately targeted by participants. Non-venomous snakes pose no threat to people or pets, and all snakes play a vital role in nature as predator and prey. They eat unhealthy fish or disease-carrying rodents and are themselves eaten by birds or mammals. A healthy population of watersnakes may help naturally limit numbers of Northern Cottonmouths through competition for food.
Education and common sense keep people safe around snakes
Most snakes in Louisiana are harmless and rarely bite people. Venomous snakes pose virtually no risk to people. On average, 5x more Americans are killed by lightning each year than by venomous snakes. Less than six people are killed by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year, on average, and no one has been killed by a Northern Cottonmouth since 2011. Most bites happen to people who try to handle or kill snakes; the rest are due to people not watching where they put their hands or feet. The best snakebite prevention is being careful and leaving snakes alone.
Events like the Lake Providence Snake Rodeo foster disrespect for wildlife and the natural world. Many of the participants in the rodeo are minors, and it is abhorrent that this behavior is normalized for impressionable youth.
Snakes are an important resource for Louisiana’s native birds
Many raptors are known to prey upon snakes, including swallow-tailed kites and red-tailed hawks. Shed snake skins are a common nest-building material for some passerines and may serve an important role in nestling survival, as snake sheds can deter mammalian predators from nests. Screech owls even bring live snakes to their nests that prey on parasites.
Wildlife-killing contests like this rodeo contradict principles of ethical hunting and science-based conservation.
Snake rodeos violate core guiding principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (non-frivolous use of wildlife, sound science to manage wildlife) and the Boone and Crockett Club (fair chase). Both ethical hunters and conservation scientists recognize the importance of responsible stewardship over all wildlife and ecosystems. Though proponents of the rodeo say it is needed to prevent snake overpopulation, there is no reason to believe that the numbers of Northern Cottonmouths in Lake Providence need to be reduced, nor is there any evidence that the Snake Rodeo benefits fish, other wildlife, or that ecosystem. Like other wild animals, snake populations are maintained by food availability, predation, and other natural processes like disease.
See photos of unsportsmanlike behavior on Facebook (WARNING: these are graphic). Remember, if you choose to comment on these public photos, BE NICE. People are unlikely to change their behavior in response to rude, nasty comments.
WARNING: DISTURBING, GRAPHIC CONTENT.
Number of snakes killed at the Lake Providence Snake Rodeo
|Mississippi Green Watersnake||0||0||1||0|
*There are no data available prior to 2003, nor for individual years 2003-2007. The rodeo was not held in 2017.
Snake rodeos have been rightfully relegated to a thing of the past in many areas, and it is shameful that a Parish-sanctioned snake rodeo exists today in Louisiana.
The unethical slaughter and waste of native wildlife at the Lake Providence Snake Rodeo must end.
End The Lake Providence Snake Rodeo is a collaboration with Louisiana Amphibian and Reptile Enthusiasts (L.A.R.E.). Want to learn more about snakes and other reptiles and amphibians in Louisiana? Check out their website:
References and Further Reading
Check out Jason Bittel’s excellent article on Snake Rodeos: Deadly Snake Rodeos: How Are They Still a Thing?
R.D. Babb. 2017. Previously Undocumented Squamate Prey Brought To Nest By Red-Tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis). The Southwestern Naturalist 62: 284-285.
D.G. Blackburn, K.E. Anderson, K.W. Aronson, M.K. Burket, J.F. Chin, S.K. San‐Francisco, and I.P. Callard. 2017. Placentation in watersnakes I: Placental histology and development in North American Nerodia (Colubridae: Natricinae). Journal of Morphology 278: 665-674.
A.M. Durso and S.J. Mullin. 2014. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors Influence Expression of Defensive Behavior in Plains Hog‐Nosed Snakes (Heterodon nasicus). Ethology 120: 140-148.
F.R. Gehlbach and R.S. Baldridge, 1987. Live blind snakes (Leptotyphlops dulcis) in eastern screech owl (Otus asio) nests: a novel commensalism. Oecologia 71: 560-563.
K. Jackson, N.J. Kley, and E.L. Brainerd. 2004. How snakes eat snakes: the biomechanical challenges of ophiophagy for the California kingsnake, Lampropeltis getula californiae (Serpentes: Colubridae). Zoology 107: 191-200.
E.C. Medlin, T.S. Risch. 2006. An Experimental Test of Snake Skin Use to Deter Nest Predation. The Condor 108: 963–965.
K.D. Meyer, S.M. McGehee, M. W. Collopy. 2004. Food Deliveries at Swallow-Tailed Kite Nests in Southern Florida. The Condor 106: 171–176.
S.L. Olson. 2006. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Preying on Maritime Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis pallidulus, on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The Canadian Field-Naturalist 120: 477.
J.K. Strecker. 1926. On the use, by birds, of snakes’ sloughs as nesting material. The Auk 43: 501-507.
United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Center for Health Statistics. 2020. Underlying Cause of Death 1999-2018 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released 2020. Data are compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed 27 March 2020.