Herpetologist: not a profession but a vocation

A serpentarium in the city of Novosibirsk is the largest producer of venom that is widely used in medicine. Herpetologists have to be very careful while milking snakes for it is a very dangerous work to do.

A snake has always been a symbol of medicine. From the very old times people have known that venom secreted by snakes has both poisonous and healing effects. Since scientists have not yet managed to obtain venom in chemical labs, milking snakes remains the only way to get this substance. That is why the number of serpentariums is on the rise now.

As the number of people attacked by snakes grows each year, producing the antidote to snake venom remains a very important task to do for it is the only reliable treatment for serious snakebites. Venom is also used to produce pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory medicines.

Keeping snakes is a costly business as these animals need good nutrition and a comfortable habitat. They rarely reproduce in captivity, says Natalia Ivanova, an expert at the Novosibirsk serpentarium…

They eat minced meat and also need vitamins to stay healthy.

There are about 1,000 snakes kept at the Novosibirsk serpentarium: cobras, Levantine vipers, rattlesnakes, adders and cottonmouth snakes. Venom is usually milked from the latter species.

To milk a snake one needs a special glass covered with thin rubber. You should take a snake by its head and allow it to bite the cover of the cover so that venom flows into the glass.

Herpetologist Vasily Kokenko has milked snakes for many years. It takes him several seconds to milk one snake. But if a snake bites him, he knows what to do to avoid serious damage to health…

One should immediately remove the venom from the wound, at least 15% of it -otherwise a person may require hospitalization.One portion of venom may kill one person and heal a thousand. For instance, 40 grams of venom is needed to make 800 tubes of gel for treating joint pains.

Vasily Kokenko started working at a serpentarium soon after he completed his military service. When he was 12, he already knew that he would become a herpetologist. His colleagues also admit that this is not simply a profession but a vocation.

The Novosibirsk serpentarium is licensed to milk only adders. Obtained venom is packed into special containers to be supplied to pharmaceutical factories in Russia and abroad.

Temperature in the serpentarium is kept at about 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year to speed up the ageing process in the animals. Since the serpentarium has no room to keep newborn snakes, herpetologists catch new species in the wild. The next snake hunt is scheduled to begin in April.

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