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.