People are assholes

I realize that’s a pretty broad stroke, but let’s look at the evidence. Leaving aside all of the stupid and horrible things humans tend to do to each other, as we could fill up pretty much the whole Internet with that, we’ll take two case studies I like to call rattlesnake roundups and Snapperfest.

If you don’t already know–and I find it hard to believe that in 2012 no one has heard of rattlesnake roundups–these are events held in a number of states on an annual basis wherein people catch rattlesnakes in the wild, frequently by pouring gasoline into their dens, and take them back to a central location where they can be examined, measured, milked for venom, beheaded, and cooked for the viewing and culinary pleasure of massive crowds of spectators. I’m not quite sure why so many people hate snakes but there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that this is yet another thing I can blame on organized religion. Christians, thanks to their holy text, associate snakes with the Devil.

I can’t think of a single redeeming aspect of this exercise. The venom collected has no medicinal value. The hunts can and do involve wanton habitat destruction. Many of the roundups still purport to provide some kind of public service by reducing exploding numbers of wild snakes that could be dangerous to humans, although the demographic data to support these claims don’t exist. The whole thing sounds a bit like something Jeff Foxworthy made up for a monologue, but instead it’s a real-life travesty.

It’s true that rattlesnakes have a potent hemotoxic venom that is potentially fatal to humans, if they’re clumsy enough to stumble over one and have ignored its auditory warnings. Turtles, on the other hand, are on record for having caused zero human fatalities (and very few injuries). Nevertheless, a barbaric tradition that I’ve only recently become aware of in Indiana is based on the exploitation of chelonians. These wonderful activities include things like running around with an Apalone to see who drops it on its carapace the least number of times and yanking on the heads of some Chelydra to see how many cervical vertebrae can be dislocated. Watch the video below if you have the stomach for it:

I don’t understand why we as a society revel in these kinds of events which only serve to denigrate these animals. Why are we pulling snakes from dens and turtles from rivers just so we can teach kids how to injure or kill them? From sulphur bacteria in deep-ocean thermal vents to blind salamanders in cave systems to the wingless insects that eat the glue in your book bindings, our planet is filled with a staggering array of life in myriad forms that are a magnificent testament to the power of a story that began three billion years ago and (unless Man has something to say about it) will continue on long after we are all reclaimed by the soil. Would it not be better to have festivals that celebrate the diversity and complexity of life on Earth? This sort of thing is a step in the right direction.


8 thoughts on “People are assholes

  1. It’s a small point, but I believe some types of rattlesnake venom are actually being used in various types of medical research. I don’t have time at the moment to scrounge up a link, so I may be entirely wrong on that count. Nevertheless, there are humane and non-lethal ways of “milking” snakes that don’t end with them on a hot grill, covered in BBQ sauce.

    At least once a year at least one garter snake will find its way into my basement, and all I do is carefully nudge it into a cardboard box and take to the back of my yard for release into the underbrush.

    But back to the matter at hand: yes, people by and large are often ASSHOLES.

    • Venom collected at roundups is generally not done in a way that it actually can be used to produce antivenin, so it’s mostly discarded. There’s some information here about this if you’re interested.

      I’m glad that you are gentle with your ophidian visitors; garter snakes certainly pose no threat to anyone, and I think if everyone could learn to treat wild animals with the respect they deserve, we might actually be better to each other too.

  2. Thanks for the rattlesnake roundup link: I’ve bookmarked the website, and will try to read it soon.

    I think snakes are great — but some of them do seem to have a distinctive, unpleasant odor, and of course they will eventually need to crap, so I’d prefer none get in my house. But it’s a minor annoyance, and a snake in the basement is only slightly startling for a second if I glance and unexpectedly see one. Unfortunately, basement snakes are a two sided coin: I also occasionally get mice down there, so a snake in the cellar once a year probably eats a few of those. But I also need to set out mice traps, and once I found an unfortunate serpent caught in one: the metal part had sprung down towards the end of the snake’s body, and there was a definite crook there. I don’t know how long the poor thing was like that (it seemed as if it had got snapped elsewhere, eventually crawling out to where I saw it), and it might have been seriously injured, but I still got the trap off and released it at the back of the yard, where it might at least have a slight chance of catching something to eat, and perhaps eventually recovering.

    Plus, I’ve got a cat who has no fear of snakes, and a natural drive to mess with any small animal, so while garter snakes aren’t poisonous I imagine a bite from a scared and desperate snake could still be problematic for a cat. Not to mention, with a feline’s natural cruelty towards their pray, I wouldn’t want him to injure a snake. Once while the cat and I were in the basement (this was before I started putting mice traps down there), while I looked away for a minute he managed to find a freshly dead snake under the stairs (I don’t know how it died) and haul it out, leaving a few bite or claw punctures in its carcass.

    Years ago in the house I lived in previously (which happens to be right next to where I’m at now) one summer day I happened to be looking out the back screen door when I saw what I at first thought was a long piece of weather stripping slowly coming loose and sagging downward, but in a few moments I realized it was actually a snake who had crawled about halfway up the door frame along a slot there, but couldn’t get any higher. When it got lower I opened the door and brushed it outside with a broom.

    One night returning from work I turned on the kitchen light in that house to find a calm snake just sitting in the middle of the room. With mock indignation and only mild irritation I half-seriously announced, “All right — that’s just TOO bold. Out with you, dammit.” As usual, I boxed and released it outside.

    OK — enough random snake stories.

    • Your random snake stories are awesome. Thanks for sharing! (And I agree that cats and snakes don’t mix well–we have five cats and when we had corn snakes we always made sure the cats couldn’t get at them.)

  3. Buddy,

    You need to get a grip on what Christianity actually teaches. Snakes are “associated” with Satan the way you are associated with balanced objectivity – only loosely.

    • John P: Clearly you’re confused–I never made any claim that this article had anything to do with objectivity or “balance” (whatever that means in your world). The fact of the matter is that I can refer you to an article (this one) where the author documents the emcees at several of these events declaring that snakes are evil and “cursed by God.” And that has absolutely everything to do with the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. And this is just one tiny reason I have to despise Christianity and most all forms of organized and unorganized religion, but that’s another article entirely. Suffice it to say that while I accept that there are many individual Christians who are good and decent people, religion has done far more to harm society throughout the history of Man than to help it.

    • I’ve met many christians over the years who, to varying degrees of seriousness (not very — up thru fundamental conviction), associate snakes with the serpent in the Eden myth of the christian bible, and therefore link snakes to the x-ian devil/Satan. They’ve reached this association directly via reading the bible, as well as via sermons offered by clergy, and analysis of and commentary on their religion by fellow believers.

  4. Snakes look for warmth too. Following a mouse trail into the house is one way they get in, and they appreciate your central heat and air as much as you do. Your kitchen floor probably felt pretty good to him.

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