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Snapperfest: The World is Watching

Saturday, August 20, 2011

 Today, Saturday, August 20, at Campshore Campground in Ohio County, Indiana (812-438-2135), the 15th Annual "Snapperfest" will take place. Here's Timothy Sizemore, the proprietor of Campshore Campground, holding the unfortunate focal point of the "festival." The highlight of the event is when contestants reach into a horse trough of murky water, pull out a snapping turtle by its tail, slam it on a mat, pound on its shell to further terrify it, then brutally yank its head out without losing a finger. But they're not done yet. A successful contestant wraps the turtle's neck around his wrist and holds it up over his head, asserting his dominance over the terrified and by now perhaps mortally injured turtle. The crowd, composed of families with lots of children, sends up a roar of approval for a successful contestant. What message does that send to the children? Fifteen years of many rural Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky kids have grown up thinking that's an awesome thing to do?
If you can stand to watch, here's the video.
Ohio County, Indiana, whose only incorporated town is Rising Sun, is right over the line from Cincinnati. You'd think that this kind of thing would have already gone the way of cockfighting, bull-baiting and Vick-style pitbull fights. But no. Who loves a snapping turtle? Who empathizes with a vicious, dangerous, cold-blooded monster of the deep that eats the fish we like to haul out on our lines? I'm figuring you do. I sure do. People like us move them off the road when they're in peril.
When we first moved to Marietta, Ohio, I went to the Washington county fair. And there was an event called a Turtle Race. Wild-caught box turtles were placed in the middle of a circle drawn in the dirt, and the owner of the first turtle to leave the circle "won." When I saw more than a dozen of these animals, abducted from their woodland habitat and plunked down in the blazing sun for a frivolous competition, Bill had to physically restrain me and carry me from ringside. I couldn't stop it that year, but I damn sure stopped it the next year. I wrote letters, I made calls; I was shouted at, hung up on and accused of spoiling harmless children's fun; of harassing members of the Fair Board. Tough. I kept my eye on the prize, because I knew I had truth and compassion on my side. The box turtle a native wildlife species that is rapidly declining and threatened by habitat loss and human exploitation. It isn't a toy. And the Fair Board had no good rejoinder to that.
 A few years later, when Washington County Fair carnival concessions were offering hatchling red-eared slider turtles and (horror of horrors) baby green iguanas as prizes, I went back into action. This time, my first call was to the Washington County Health Department, which quickly responded to my assertion that both water turtles and iguanas are known salmonella vectors, and hardly suitable as children's prizes at a fair. Shut them down that time, too. A few well-placed, polite calls shored up with factual information go a long way.
Indiana law states that a person who knowingly, intentionally beats a vertebrate animal commits a Class A misdemeanor. 
I note that Campshore Campground's proprietor Timothy Sizemore's favorite saying on his public Facebook profile is "What goes around comes around, do unto others......"  He also describes himself as "honest, straightforward, compassionate, emotional, sincere."
A snapping turtle is not a toy. It is a sentient vertebrate being, capable of feeling fear and pain. This "festival" needs to go the way of bull-baiting, cockfighting and pitbull fighting. We've apparently learned nothing from Michael Vick's example.  
Call the Ohio County Sheriff at 812-438-3636. 
Call the Campshore Campground at 812-438-2135.
Even if you get an answering machine or a busy signal, keep calling. Make it more trouble for them than it's worth to hold this brutal event. Tell them the world is watching.
Here's my letter: 
Dear (insert public official here) 
I am a writer, naturalist, and wildlife rehabilitator who works with turtles in southeast Ohio. I have just become aware of "Snapperfest," and I've viewed video of live snapping turtles being very roughly handled by people in a contest. As one who spends years and quite a bit of my own funds healing turtles that have been hit by cars and mowers, or kept in captivity by people, the notion of using living animals in a contest to subdue them literally sickens me. This is a barbaric thing, which must go the way of bull baiting, cockfighting and pit bull fights. Have we learned nothing from Michael Vick's example? Turtles are not toys, and the regrettable fact that most people hate snapping turtles doesn't make this any less cruel and barbaric. Snapping turtles are native wildlife, and must be treated with respect. This event reflects very badly on Indiana, on Ohio County, and on officials who turn a blind eye to an illegal and extremely inhumane activity.

Looking into Indiana law, we find:

Information Maintained by the Office of Code Revision Indiana Legislative Services Agency
IC 35-46-3
Chapter 3. Offenses Relating to Animals…
IC 35-46-3-8
…Purchase or possession of animals for contests
Sec. 8. A person who knowingly or intentionally purchases or possesses an animal for the purpose of using the animal in an animal contest commits a Class D felony.
As added by P.L.193-1987, SEC.11. Amended by P.L.171-2007,
IC 35-46-3-0.5
(2) "Beat" means to unnecessarily or cruelly strike an animal, or to throw the animal against an object causing the animal to suffer severe pain or injury. The term does not include reasonable training or disciplinary techniques.
(3) "Mutilate" means to wound, injure, maim, or disfigure an animal by irreparably damaging the animal's body parts or to render any part of the animal's body useless.

I would be surprised if any of the snapping turtles used in violation of Indiana law in this contest are viable or releasable after such severe abuse. Please stop this event, or be prepared to receive the outrage of many thousands of people who respect native wildlife and will not suffer its torture for fun or profit.


Julie Zickefoose 
 Compose your own letter and fire it off to:
The Honorable Connie J. Brown
Ohio County Commissioner

The Honorable Todd Walton
Ohio County Commissioner

The Honorable Connie Smith
Ohio County Auditor

Campshore Campground
812-438-2135 (office)
812-290-5939 (cell)

Councilman Pro-Tem Mike Padgett
(812) 438-3340

Councilman Steve Slack
(812) 438-3340

Councilman Lynn Graves
(812) 438-3340

Councilman Bud Radcliff
(812) 438-3340

Councilman Roy Powell
(812) 438-3340

AND: Sign the petition, "Stop Snapperfest" at
Thank you. Together, we can change the world for the better, one cruelty at a time.


I need to take a shower and brush my teeth after watching that video... :P and X(

I am speechless.

I've sent emails to your list of people. Two of them came back undeliverable, but I guess the rest went through.

I've also posted the link to this blog post on the Wildlife Center of Virginia FB page. Get those eagle peeps riled up!



Dear Julie, have you contacted the Humane Society of the US about this? I can't make myself watch the video but I'll bet they'd be interested. I emailed everyone on the list, but the last 3 were returned as unavaileable.

I found your blog via the Birdchick.

Jan Silloway, Chippewa Falls WI

Posted by Jan Silloway August 20, 2011 at 10:04 AM

This is terrible, though much worse things are done to rattlesnakes on a daily basis in many parts of the US. Will we ever learn?

Thanks for providing the email addresses. I sent an email to each of them. Some emails bounced back saying their inboxes were full. Good!

Thanks for the information about this. Didn't realize this was going on...even in my area.

Is man still so insecure that he still needs to prove something here? So disgustingly caveman and disrespectful. I did not mean to insult cavemen here . They had a sense of their environment I'm sure .

Just hearing about this turned my stomach, I didn't even have to watch. I can't believe what crazy things we humans seem to have to do in the name of entertainment. I also want to comment about your previous post and how sad I am on the loss of Charlie. We had a myna bird when I was growing up whose name was Charlie. Boy, we all loved that silly bird! He was great and we all were so sad when he passed away. My heart goes out to you and your family.

I'm on it! I am horrified and pissed off beyond acceptable. This is sickening.

To Opposablechums, the HSUS is aware. They have posted info on their wildlife abuse facebook page.

I directed my comment about HSUS to the wrong person. Sorry. It should have been in response to Jan Silloway.

Julie -- what about starting a petition?

--a fellow birder/nature lover/reader of your blog from Baltimore

Tim, there's already one called "Stop Snapperfest" on, and as of this writing it had over 12,000 signatures. This is big. Here's the link (and I put it at the bottom of my post)

Late word (4pm Saturday) has it that local law enforcement is barring protesters and protecting festival participants and the goings-on there. This is to be expected. Protesters are outsiders and a threat. HOWEVER...this issue is much, much bigger than Aurora County Indiana, as they are finding out. There's no way they can keep this activity up going forward in the face of worldwide outrage. Keep the heat on them. And thank you!!

I didn't watch the video but I signed the petition and sent it on to 12 naturalist types.

Perhaps inbreeding explains it.

Wow. This is bad, especially that it is practically tradition, by now. A woman whose daughter rescues a woodpecker fledgling is fined (at least the citation was thrown out!), and I require a permit in order to perform mechanical tests on a moulted owl feather; meanwhile, Indiana law enforcement fails to enforce the laws on this? This country is amazing.

Posted by Anonymous August 20, 2011 at 1:59 PM

Will it ever stop?! Thank you for giving us the information to help stamp out as much of this cruelity as we can. Those that hurt an animal will hurt a fellow doubt about it.

I did not watch the video--I do not have the stomach for such.
Sadly, we in PA have the Hegins pigeon shoot as just such an example of mindless cruelty. It was stopped a few years back. (Although there are reports from time to time that planners want to bring it back.)

"Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport, the frogs do not die in sport, but in earnest."

Thanks so much for spending what I'm sure was several hours documenting this abuse and giving us the e-mail addresses and phone numbers of people that might do something about it. My letter went to all but two of the names on your list. I'll try to resend it to those two next week.

Snapperfest is not held in Aurora. Aurora is in Dearborn County. Indiana. Snapperfest is held in Ohio County Indiana. The only incorparated town in the county is Rising Sun.

Posted by Anonymous August 21, 2011 at 8:58 AM

Duly noted and corrected. Thanks, Anonymous. I've always loved driving by Rising Sun. What a beautiful name that is for a town. Let's hope the light of humane animal treatment soon shines there.

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. It takes time and effort to make some people face the fact that this is a festival of cruelty, like "rattlesnake roundups," etc. Ignorance of this magnitude is pretty shocking. I signed the petition and shared this on Facebook.

I like the line "Turtles are not toys."

Couldn't bring myself to watch the video-not my cup of tea--but thanks for bringing it to our attention--Sickening to think of!

How inanely cruel can one get? Oh, yeah, "snapperfest."

I bet it started out as "If you can't do this, you're not much of a man" or phrases to that effect, grew into a group event, etc. I just can't fathom what some of the testosterone persuasion will do in the name of "fun."

I bet they say, "But they're just turtles," I have my turtle and I can tell you they are intelligent, aware creatures who can feel pain. People who hurt animals will hurt anything that lives.

I signed the petitions and sent a link to my local TV station.

Thanks for making us aware of this unbelievable behavior. Why oh why would anyone think of such a ridiculous, barbaric contest?

This kind of brutality, at any level, is not fun. It is sadistic. Wow, neanderthals driving around in cars to this event gives one pause. I cannot imagine anyone taking their children to this event lest enjoying it themselves. Wicked and disturbing.

Those snapping turtles are infected with SALMONELLA and I believe such a public gathering including where people put the turtles in their MOUTH, is a public health risk. They probably served food there too. This is encouraging children to handle turtles and get infection, and get their fingers bit off. I sent a complaint to the Department of Health in Indiana.

received from email to Indiana governor:

Thank you for contacting Governor Daniels about the event known as Snapperfest.

Snapperfest is an annual event at a private campground in Indiana at which individuals are timed on how quickly they can capture a common snapping turtle, coax the turtle to stick its head out of its shell and hold the neck without getting bit.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources investigated this matter and had a presence during the most recent Snapperfest, including undercover officers at the event. To our knowledge and from onsite observation, the abuse of the snapping turtles is not allowed at Snapperfest.

Much of the attention brought to this year's Snapperfest was due to the wide circulation of a video on YouTube. The event organizer informed IDNR that contest rules prohibit participants from smacking turtles on the ground as seen in this video. Additionally, the individual seen on the YouTube video is forbidden from future participation in the event.

The IDNR has an interest here to the extent of ensuring that all applicable laws are followed with respect to a wild animal.

The common snapping turtle is one of three turtles considered a game species in Indiana. The other two are the smooth softshell turtle and spiny softshell turtle. All three are subject to state laws that regulate their taking from the wild. Those laws include the purchase and possession of a fishing or hunting license for anyone age 18 or older, plus a daily bag limit and possession limit. Furthermore, Indiana law prohibits the sale of all native turtle species.

Many individuals who have voiced objection to Snapperfest point to the animal cruelty laws found in Indiana Code 35-46-3. However, that law is not applicable in this instance because it provides an exemption for wild animals that are legally taken and possessed under the authority of Indiana Code 14-22.

Thank you for your active citizenship.


Shelley Reeves

Governor's Liaison for the Department of Natural Resources

Sign the Petition to Stop Snapperfest!

(Love your blog)...Here is a quick and easy petition started on to share with folks who might not have the time to write the letter now, but could do this quick!
Sarah Strom-Kieschnick herper/naturalist/environmentalist

JZ, doesn't the last paragraph of the response from the Governor's office mean, for all intents and purposes, that I'm not allowed to slam my cat (or husband or child or dog, etc.) to the ground, beat it on its sides, stick my hand down it's throat the proudly wave it in triumph above my head, I can do it to a turtle or dear or rabbit, etc, so long as I caught it "legally." Huh? Cruel is cruel, no matter what the species.

Mark, thank you so much for sending the governor's response. Phew. And Speedway, by that reasoning, yes, I should be able to kill a whitetail with a salad fork, long's as I got a license and it's in season. Hideous. Take it legally, you can do whatever you want with it...

This all shores up my suspicion that the humane angle as an attack on Snapperfest is going nowhere in Indiana. I have other angles, and I'm working on them as we speak. Stay tuned. And thank you.

"Not legally protected" doesn't mean "do anything you want to them." The slightest sliver of the most basic common sense should tell you that you CAN'T kill a deer with a fork, in or out of season, and that you CAN'T torture a turtle just because it's not fast enough to get away from you.

When did we become a people who defended torture? Oh...yeah...

Julie; go here please. I feel the same. (Turtle Torture)

Julie, I have been trying to find out if snapperfest is taking place this year. I have written several letters on different sites regarding it but never get a reply. Even the number I had last year for the Ohio County sheriff's office is disconnected, as I tried to contact them last week to find out. Can you help me?

Posted by deb thar July 8, 2012 at 12:25 PM
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