Saturday is not a good day to be a snake in this Louisiana town

Published 10:04 pm Friday, May 20, 2022

If you’ve heard the saying, “The only good snake is a dead snake,” then a town in the northeast corner of Louisiana is the place to be on Saturday.

Lake Providence will revive a tradition dating to at least the 1960s called the snake rodeo. Armed with shotguns, participants will head out on the lake and shoot as many snakes as they can.

Sheriff Wydette Williams said the event, which his office organizes, is the first since 2019 after subsequent ones were canceled by the pandemic.

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Lake Providence, with about 3,500 residents, is the seat of East Carroll Parish. The town sits along the Mississippi River and next to the oxbow lake from which it derives its name. The calls from residents for a rodeo often come in the spring, when the river rises and drives more snakes into the lake, Williams said.

“Our snake problem gets to be real serious,” he said. “We have frequent areas that flood.”

Snake lovers and others, however, have pleaded with the sheriff to end the rodeo or change it so that the snakes aren’t killed. They note that most of the snakes killed are not venomous and no-kill events are being adopted by other areas around the country where snake roundups are held.

Williams has not been swayed, though he said he had nothing against those who want to protest the event.

“I welcome them,” he said. “They have a right to be here.”

The rodeo’s rules are simple: two shotguns per boat, shoot as many snakes as you can over five hours, and then bring them back to the weigh-in at the end of the event. There are prizes for the team that kills the most snakes and the team that kills the longest snake. There are no limitations on the type or size of snake, just that they have to be dead when measured.

The snake rodeo is not unique to the area. Similar “rodeos” or “roundups” have been held all over the country, even reaching the level of being lampooned on a 1993 episode of The Simpsons about Springfield’s “Whacking Day.” The most common is a rattlesnake roundup, where typically the meat is eaten and the skins are used.

Still, the number of rodeos where snakes are killed has dwindled as organizers have adopted catch and release policies or pursued purely educational aims.

That’s what Brad “Bones” Glorioso would like to see happen in Lake Providence.

Glorioso, a herpetologist and founder of Louisiana Amphibian and Reptile Enthusiasts, attended the 2016 rodeo with several live snakes that he showed to interested attendees.

“You hear the tired old line that the only good snake is a dead snake,” he said, asking what would people think if you replaced “snake” in that saying with “puppy.”

“That’s how I feel when people tell me that line,” he said.

Glorioso said he wants to educate people about snakes, not try to stop them from participating in the rodeo. Most of the snakes killed in the Lake Providence rodeo are harmless, he said. Often, the snake that wins the prize for being the longest is a ratsnake, a nonvenomous snake that can grow to more than seven feet, he added.

In 2019, of the 134 snakes killed in the rodeo, 88 of them were Diamond-backed Watersnakes, according to the Advocates for Snake Preservation, which has called for the rodeo to end. Only 22 were Northern Cottonmouths, the venomous water moccasin that inspires fear. T

Glorioso and others have started an online petition to end the rodeo, though he thinks just teaching people about snakes’ value to the local ecosystem has a better shot of accomplishing that goal.

Snakes, even poisonous ones, are essential in keeping fish stocks healthy by culling sick or weak fish. Snakes are also prey for a spectrum of Louisiana birds, including hawks and herons, he said.

“There’s no evidence that what they are doing has any beneficial effect,” Glorioso said

Glorioso, who said he doesn’t plan to attend this year’s rodeo, said people just need to learn to live with snakes and other scary animals instead of shooting them on sight.

“We got to coexist with these animals,” he said. “Snakes need the most love because they get the most hate.”