Snapperfest -or- Hoosiers gone wild (and stupid)

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A couple weeks ago I wrestled with the idea of pig wrestling at the Western Montana Fair. Turns out my healthcare provider, Western Montana Clinic, was one of the sponsors. Yes, healers–people whose empathy should be well-developed–sponsored an event where frightened pigs and piglets are chased and wrestled into a bucket. These things leave you shaking your head: Who finds this kind of stupidity entertaining? Why would any savvy business person agree to sponsor something with an element of cruelty? One species’ “fun” is another species’ terror–is this so hard to grasp?

Now comes Snapperfest and, as a native Hoosier, I’m loathe to report that Indiana has to claim it. Snapperfest takes place in southeast Indiana along the Ohio River where the Kentucky and Ohio borders meet the Hoosier state. If you visited the Rising Sun/Ohio County, Indiana tourism website in the days leading up to event, the first thing you saw was a disclaimer disowning anything to do with Snapperfest. Now there’s a ringing endorsement!

If, by now, your curiosity is aroused, it’s likely your sense of dread is also on high alert. And right you are, an animal species is once again the unwilling target of crass human stupidity posing as entertainment.

Snapperfest pits grown men against snapping turtles. A 2009 YouTube video (nine minutes) will show you everything you need to know about the quest: Run to a tank, reach in, grab a snapper, run back to the staging area, forcibly wrestle the turtle’s head out of the shell, and grab the turtle’s neck in your fist, preferably with all fingers intact. Mission accomplished!

One Snapperfest YouTube video has already been removed; it’s anyone’s guess how long the 2009 version will be displayed. (As of last Friday, it was openly available for viewing; as of Saturday, you had to sign-in to view. But it’s also available here without any hassle.) Are those knives coming out of sheaths at the 1:50 mark? Note the aggression of the “turtle wrangler” at 5:40; watch a Snapperfester drop his turtle at 7:30.

But it’s “good clean fun” and the turtles don’t get hurt, we are assured. “There ain’t no abuse to the turtles whatsoever,” says one old timer. PETA unsuccessfully attempted to halt (page already removed) this year’s Snapperfest–it was held Saturday, 8/20–and plenty of outrage has filled the ether. The folks at the Campshore Camp Ground, host to Snapperfest, have been hammered by phone calls from every state in the U.S. and some foreign countries. They seem genuinely baffled as to why their “harmless fun” would rile anyone.

Was there ever a species so large-brained and still so clueless as Homo sapiens? A species so entitled to get its mindless jollies and ego stoking at the expense of other species? Wrestling pigs, roping calves, manhandling turtles, rounding up rattlers, blasting prairie dogs, gawking at captive animals in zoos, circuses, and water parks, racing horses, wrestling steers…and all the while clueless or indifferent to the fact that the exploited subjects are sentient individuals who simply want what we want: to live, and live free; to pursue their lives free of fear and suffering.

If you weren’t up for nine minutes of Snapperfest ’09, here’s a shorter clip (thanks to the World Animal Awareness Society) from this year’s spectacle. Just one minute, one contestant, and one tortured turtle. Watch this and you’ll understand why it’s not a good day to be a Hoosier. Being human probably won’t seem so grand, either.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

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