CNN has created a reality series called Snake Salvation telling the story of a group of religious extremists who "find salvation" by dancing with poisonous snakes. It brought back memories. When I was a child ---some seventy-five years ago--- my grandfather took me along on his trips to the Smokey Mountains in Kentucky and Tennessee where we often visited the snake dancers. He was on to the sham serpent showmen even then. Now I see that nothing has changed.
When you watch the religious snake dancers what you're seeing is snake abuse, pure and simple!!!
The dancers catch the snakes and put them into small boxes where the snakes can barely move. Since they are considered the devil's spawn they are never fed, so they slowly, cruelly starve to death. Usually it takes longer than a year. If you look at the sluggish, limp noodle snakes dangling from the dancer's hands you can see the snakes are near death.
In the series Jamie Coots goes as far as Texas to find new snakes. That's because all the local snakes have died out because of his relentless hunting and killing. Also, in any given year a third to half of their captured snakes die!
As anyone who cares for snakes knows, If you pick up a healthy snake in the middle, it will immediately raise its head to check you out. Its rippling muscles are a wonder to behold. But these snakes just dangle, bouncing around helplessly as the worshipers dance. Large snakes are often put in boxes so small they can't even uncurl themselves to stretch out. They hiss pitifully but these so called God fearing humans have no mercy. And you can bet they never take a hissing, rattling, newly caught snake to their meetings. The Almighty wouldn't want that. They are very careful in rotating the snakes so only the most starved snakes make it to the meetings.Another trick they use is to load the snakes into the wagon, or car the night before the meeting exposing them to the chill of the mountain night air or they dip the box into the cold mountain streams. Again, as any responsible snake owner knows, snakes are cold blooded animals. They need heat in order to function. In the wild they often sun themselves on rocks to keep warm, or stay underground. Conscientious snake owners carefully regulate the heat in their snake's quarters to keep them healthy. If a snake gets out, you need only look for a heat source to find the snake. Cold makes them unconscious, paralyzed. A thoroughly chilled snake is a helpless snake safe to handle. It's a wonder the dancers ever get bitten.
Another snake fact. As snakes dehydrate their poison gets diluted and can even dry up completely resulting in what herpetologists call dry bites. Bites with no venom. So when the snake dancers brag that they have been bitten many times, that says more about the condition of the snake then about divine intervention.
Are they doing this deliberately, knowingly? "Of course." my grandfather used to say. "They can talk about salvation all they want, but they're not stupid enough to attempt to dance with live healthy rattlers. That'd ruin their act and put things straight mighty fast."
And, of course, last but not least, the snake dancers are all pros. Like the Snake Charmers of India, they know their gig and they bask in the wonderment of their audience. But you won't see them handing the snakes off to an amateur or a newcomer. And children are absent in the meetings or kept far from the snakes.There was a story when I was a child about a pastor's sixteen year old son and four of his younger siblings deciding to imitate the dancing when his parents were out in the fields. He picked out a snake, but it was a recently caught snake. Bad choice. Not only did the snake escape but it bit four of the children who tried to catch it. They died within the hour. Only the youngest had the good sense to run for her life.
So I feel sorry for the snakes in this series. Since no one seems ready to intervene in this ridiculous primitive practice to save the human lives involved perhaps one of the animal protective societies might intervene for the sake of the snakes. Or perhaps the lawmakers could pass laws stating that all captured snakes must be treated humanely and kept healthy according to modern pet snake standards. That'd put an end this stupid cruel practice.
Hello PETA, hello HSUS, hello state senators! You can't protect people from themselves but perhaps someone could attempt to intervene to protect the defenseless, tortured snakes!