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MONDAY, JANUARY 31, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Rattlesnake rodeos causing too much harm to continue

Whigham, Ga., a town of about 320 people near the Florida line, staged a rattlesnake rodeo Saturday for the 45th year, an event that attracts thousands and raises money for charity.

Despite the amusement it provides those who attend and the money it raises, it should be stopped. The people of Whigham should find another way to raise money.

It's not because rattlesnakes are high on most people's list of desirable creatures. For the majority, the only good rattlesnake is a dead one.

With that said, it should be pointed out that rattlesnakes do a lot of good, killing rats and other pests that make our lives miserable. But during these rodeos, the snakes aren't out slithering about. And that's where the concern comes.

Rattlesnakes tend to winter with gopher turtles in South Georgia and Florida, much of their habitat. A gopher turtle is usually in that same hole with the snake.

The turtle is protected in Georgia and Florida, and is Georgia's state reptile. Snake hunters often use a long hose to dribble gasoline down the hole. The snake crawls out and the turtle dies.

Although event sponsors discourage the gasoline method, they admit they have no control over the hunters. Last year, 350 rattlers were caught, so it's probably not far off to estimate that a large number of these protected turtles died.

Most of the larger rattlesnake rodeos have been canceled to help protect this turtle, but a few remain. Georgia once had three rodeos, but only this one remains.

Gopher turtles, known during the Great Depression as "Hoover chickens," a reference to President Hoover and to the fact that they were hunted for food then, are seeing much of their habitat destroyed by the ever-expanding use of land.

Because these rodeo events increase the threat to both the diamondback rattlesnake and the gopher turtle, they should cease.

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