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Sensational Snakes: Houston Zoo Puts a Spotlight on Native Snakes

Snakes are a part of life in Texas, and the Houston Zoo is passionate about their conservation. Snakes of all kinds play a vital role in our ecosystem as one of nature’s best pest control agents since they eat rats, mice, and other small animals. Even so, many people don’t like to see them in their own backyard. This becomes a major conflict as the weather warms up and Houstonians start to become more active outside and human-snake encounters become increasingly more common. As cold-blooded animals, snakes thrive in the warmth of Southeast Texas which makes this area ripe for a diverse population of this remarkable reptile.

The Houston Zoo is working hard to change snakes’ bad reputation by participating in a variety of special events created precisely to squelch fears of these valuable animals.

On Saturday, May 7, the Houston Zoo’s snake experts will be sharing their knowledge of local snakes at the Reptile House from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.  From Texas rat snakes to copperheads and cottonmouths to milk snakes, guests will learn all about the snakes that call Houston home. During the event, the keepers will have a variety of local snakes in easy-to-see table top tanks so guests can get closer than ever to these incredible animals.

Keepers will discuss the anatomy and biology of the snakes that live in the area, and what Houstonians can do to help protect these important animals. They’ll also tell you what to do if you become face-to-face with any snake.

Herpetology supervisor Judith Bryja will also represent the Houston Zoo at this weekend’s Lone Star Rattlesnake Days event in Austin. The event is April 30 and May 1 at the Travis County Expo Center and is aimed at changing the way people think about rattlesnakes.

It is doubtful that any other animal group is more feared or less understood by the general public. This persecution has reached such a point that, in some states, “Rattlesnake Roundups” are a popular fund-raising event for organizations like the local Chamber of Commerce or the Jaycees. The largest of these roundups is held each March in Sweetwater, Texas. This event began in 1958 and was advertised as a method of controlling the rattlesnake population in the area. However, it has progressed to the point where now rattlesnakes are collected months in advance often from more than 100 miles away from Sweetwater. They are collected by flushing them out of their dens and hiding areas with gasoline and other toxic substances, which not only harms the snakes, but also any other animals that may be in the same place. They are then kept in substandard conditions and are in poor health by the time the rattlesnake roundup is held. The snakes are sometimes cruelly strung up alive, decapitated and skinned in front of crowds which include children. These horrific events are promoted as safe and educational family fun – but they are not. The best way these events to end is if people stop participating in the slaughter.

In April of 1999, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association adopted a resolution condemning rattlesnake roundups and advising member institutions, such as the Houston Zoo, to oppose these activities. The Houston Zoo is joining with other Texas zoos in their opposition to rattlesnake roundups and encourages educational alternatives that promote awareness and respect for these animals.