Visiting the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby

Each week, Gadling is taking a look at our favorite festivals around the world. From music festivals to cultural showcases to the just plain bizarre, we hope to inspire you to do some festival exploring of your own. Come back each Wednesday for our picks or find them all HERE.

Each Spring, avid rattlesnake hunters and handlers gather in Mangum, Oklahoma for the annual Mangum Rattlesnake Derby. The event began in 1966 when the Shortgrass Rattlesnake Association organized the first weekend-long derby to hunt, measure and cook the reptiles. Each year, a crowd of approximately 30,000 hunters and spectators gathers to take part.

The Mangum Rattlesnake Derby, held near the end of April, includes a wide range of snake-related activities, music, contests and food. Visitors come to watch snake handlers, eat at the “Bite-A-Snake Cafe” or enter the snake pit and try to find the longest “rattler” and win the derby. There’s also carnival rides, one of the largest flea markets in the state, live music by regional musicians and a royalty contest.

Want to know more about this crazy snake shindig in Southern Oklahoma? Keep reading below.

The highlight of each year’s Derby is the Longest Snake Contest. Rattlesnake hunters explore the southwestern Oklahoma hills and countryside seeking the longest and heaviest snakes to win cash awards and trophies. Hunters must register for the guided hunts and attend a safety course. Measuring and weighing of the live snakes often requires four men to hold the dangerous reptiles during the process. Snakes at this Oklahoma event routinely measure in excess of six feet long.

Young women who attend high school in Greer County also compete for the coveted title of “Miss Derby Princess” winning not only gifts and cash awards, but also a college scholarship. The winner must be brave enough to pose for a photo with the winner of the “Longest Snake” contest

Meanwhile at the Snake Pit, two handlers stand inside a ring with over a hundred rattlesnakes slithering around their feet. While one handler entertains the crowd by actively working with the Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, the other educates the crowds about the art of “charming” snakes and facts about the elusive and deadly creatures.

Another highlight of the weekend is the “Butcher Shop Show” where spectators not only watch a snake being prepared for the fryer, but also learn about the delicacy of serpentine meat. The show may be a bit too gory for children and those who flinch at the sight of blood, but it is as entertaining as it is educational. Even in death, a rattlesnake is still deadly and must be handled with extreme caution. After skinning the rattlesnake and removing the head, the butcher demonstrates how the deadly jaws have one final bite left by using a hat or scarf from an audience member.

While some spectators believe that snake tastes a lot like chicken, patrons at the “Bite-A-Snake Cafe” can cast their own vote as to the flavor of serpentine cuisine. Volunteers from the Mangum Mounties Association batter slices of rattlesnake from the butcher shop and fry the meat for anxiously awaiting customers.

Some have decried the butchering practices as inhumane towards the snakes. The Derby Association addresses these questions on its website, indicating that the snakes are “dispatched according to acceptable commercial practices” and that by holding the festival, they hope to “correct modern misconceptions about the rattlesnake.”

Whether you’re watching rattlesnakes get measured, learning about them at the snake pit, or eating one after its been deep fried, visitors to the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby are sure to come away with a unique understanding of these amazing creatures.

Wild animal travel: Where the hunter becomes the hunted

There’s nothing quite like seeing a wild animal in its natural habitat. It’s why people go on safari in South Africa to see lions and elephants, trek through the jungles of Borneo in search of monkeys, and submerge themselves in steel cages off the coast of Baja California to swim with Great White sharks. But it’s important to remember that despite the precautions taken by tour guides and rangers, these are still wild animals and getting close to them in nature carries some risks. In other words: there’s a reason that safari guide carries a gun.

Forbes Traveler has put together a list of “10 Places Where Animals Eat You”, a collection of destinations where the danger of visiting wild animals in nature is greater. Among the spots that made the list are Khao Sok National Park in Thailand, where cobras kill several hundred people per year; South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, where aggressive hippos have been known to flip boats and even eat people; and Ranthambhore Bagh, India, where around 100 people are attacked by tigers each year.

The article goes on to detail other encounters with wild animals, like when the girlfriend of a Tanzanian guide had her sleeping bag dragged 30 yards by a lion, while she was sound asleep in it. It seems animal attacks can happen almost anywhere though, and the danger certainly won’t stop most people from visiting these areas to see wild animals up close. You may just want to think twice about wandering too far away from your guide.

Passenger on Southwest flight stung by scorpion

First snakes on a plane, now scorpions.

Doug Herbstommer was traveling from Phoenix to Indianapolis on Southwest Airlines and was apparently carrying some non-TSA approved items in his carry-on. As he was rummaging through his bag, he was stung by a scorpion, identified as an Arizona bark scorpion, which had presumably gotten into his bag in Phoenix and come along for the ride. The sting of this kind of scorpion is rarely fatal and Herbstommer was treated when the plane landed in Indianapolis.

Several more baby scorpions were found in Herbstommer’s luggage and in the overhead bin of the plane. They were removed and the jet was fumigated as a precaution.

[via USA Today]

Turkmenistan’s “Door to Hell”

Door to Hell, englishrussia.comWe’ve previously reported here at Gadling on the intriguing, surreal and downright bizarre tourist attractions of the Central Asian nation of Turkmenistan. Now today comes further “fuel” for the country’s already odd reputation. Website English Russia is reporting on what local residents have dubbed the “Door to Hell” – a cavernous, flaming pit outside the small town of Darvaza which has been continuously burning for more than 35 years.

While Biblical alarmists might point to the “Door of Hell” as yet another sign of a coming apocalypse, the phenomenon apparently has a scientific explanation. According local residents, geologists were digging in the area for gas deposits and stumbled upon a huge underground cavern. The geologists apparently concluded the cavern was filled with poisonous gas, and decided (as any sane rational scientist might do) that they should light the cavern on fire to burn off the excess. The hole has been burning for more than 35 years since. Though there’s some debate on English Russia about whether this flaming pit is actually located in Uzbekistan, some further investigation confirms it is indeed in Turkmenistan.

Perhaps the “Door to Hell” won’t help put Turkmenistan back on your list of 1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die, but if you’re a Satanist, energy company executive or just plain curious, maybe it’s worth the long trek out to Central Asia.