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San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival is this weekend

Jim Mendenhall shows off a diamondback rattlesnake at the fest. He brings his snakes every year. 

Times files (2007)

Jim Mendenhall shows off a diamondback rattlesnake at the fest. He brings his snakes every year. 

SAN ANTONIO — There will be pony rides and a petting zoo, caged tigers and portable ponds of fish. Lest anyone forget, though, the stars of this weekend's San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival are the slithering snakes and their fellow reptiles.

The snake and reptile shows will run throughout the two-day festival with snake expert Jim Mendenhall showcasing fanged phenoms. Over the years, he has collected Indonesian vipers, African cobras and species from the jungles of South America. But by far his favorites are the native species he acquired because they were unwanted or injured.

Mendenhall's goal is to educate. Many species are dwindling even though they play a crucial role in the ecosystem.

"We must learn to live with all of God's creatures, good or bad, big or small," Mendenhall writes on his website. "Take the time to learn and see what so many of us have been taught to fear. They are truly beautiful and fascinating."

The festival began more than four decades ago, when the San Antonio Jaycees thought a display of noisy snakes would make for the perfect community fundraiser. Young men ventured to nearby ranches to round up snakes. Whoever brought in the snake with the largest rattler won a pair of snake-catching boots from Hardy's Department Store in Dade City.

Now the department store is closed and the snakes are brought in by professional handlers. The real gopher tortoises that used to race in the 1960s have been replaced by wood and Styrofoam mockups. And the festival is now run by the Rattlesnake and Gopher Enthusiasts, a nonprofit group that took over when the Jaycees disbanded in the 1970s.

These days, the event has the full range of festival fare: pancake breakfasts, barbecued chicken, live music, kids rides and crafts, a footrace and classic car show.

But the snake remains king.

SAN ANTONIO — There will be pony rides and a petting zoo, caged tigers and portable ponds of fish. Lest anyone forget, though, the stars of this weekend's San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival are the slithering snakes and their fellow reptiles.

The snake and reptile shows will run throughout the two-day festival with snake expert Jim Mendenhall showcasing fanged phenoms. Over the years, he has collected Indonesian vipers, African cobras and species from the jungles of South America. But by far his favorites are the native species he acquired because they were unwanted or injured.

Mendenhall's goal is to educate. Many species are dwindling even though they play a crucial role in the ecosystem.

"We must learn to live with all of God's creatures, good or bad, big or small," Mendenhall writes on his website. "Take the time to learn and see what so many of us have been taught to fear. They are truly beautiful and fascinating."

The festival began more than four decades ago, when the San Antonio Jaycees thought a display of noisy snakes would make for the perfect community fundraiser. Young men ventured to nearby ranches to round up snakes. Whoever brought in the snake with the largest rattler won a pair of snake-catching boots from Hardy's Department Store in Dade City.

Now the department store is closed and the snakes are brought in by professional handlers. The real gopher tortoises that used to race in the 1960s have been replaced by wood and Styrofoam mockups. And the festival is now run by the Rattlesnake and Gopher Enthusiasts, a nonprofit group that took over when the Jaycees disbanded in the 1970s.

These days, the event has the full range of festival fare: pancake breakfasts, barbecued chicken, live music, kids rides and crafts, a footrace and classic car show.

But the snake remains king.

.if you go

San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival

When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Downtown San Antonio (follow the signs off State Road 52)

Cost: Admission and parking are free; snake and reptile shows are $5 for adults, $2 for children 12 and younger.

Details: rattlesnakefestival.com

San Antonio Rattlesnake Festival is this weekend 10/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 13, 2011 5:32pm]

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