Many people possess a deep, innate, even biblical fear of anything that slithers upon the ground, but for some that turns to fascination and the temptation to obtain and admire such creatures at a much more personal distance.
There are plenty of snakes that are not dangerous, and many people with a passing interest in reptiles have experience with those sorts.
But some of the real die-hard fans go for the strikingly beautiful, venomous sort — and, rather unsurprisingly, sometimes they get bitten.
Over the weekend, a man from Richmond, Virginia, was bitten by his own pet snake, a Gaboon viper, widely regarded as one of the most deadly snakes in the world.
“With the highest venom yield (the amount of venom held in their venom glands at one time) of all venomous snakes, Gaboon vipers have a deadly bite — yet the number of human fatalities caused by these reptiles is lower than one might expect,” the Los Angeles Zoo’s page on the snake reads.
“This is partly because Gaboon vipers tend to be very calm, slow-moving snakes,” it said. “When threatened, they initially hold very still and hiss loudly as a warning.
“While Gaboon viper bites are rare for humans, when they do bite, it is often fatal.”
Since the Gaboon viper hails from western Africa, antivenom for its bite is a rare commodity in the United States. The Virginia man’s bite wasn’t one from a local venomous snake for which area hospitals might have antivenom in stock to treat: Medical professionals were hard-pressed to find treatment for this rare reptile’s bite.
“The concern is with these snakes that are not endemic to our area — are not native to our area — is if these patients require treatment with anti-venom, is trying to locate the anti-venom and then trying to get it to the health care facility,” Natasha Tobarran with the Virginia Poison Center said, according to WAVY-TV in Portsmouth.
A first dose of antivenom was administered at the Virginia Commonwealth University hospital after the Smithsonian National Zoo in D.C. sent some over, but the man still needed more or he would die, authorities told the outlet.
Thankfully, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center had some, so a state police sergeant raced to get the antivenom, driving from Virginia Beach to Richmond.
“The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center provided 35 doses of anti-venom for emergency transport by state police to the VCU Medical Center,” aquarium representative Mackenzie Di Nardo said.
The man’s latest condition was not made public, but he was given a fighting chance thanks to the Smithsonian National Zoo and the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center.
Making antivenom is a time-consuming, painstaking process, and many (including other snake enthusiasts) have called out this owner for not being prepared.
“When you have these very dangerous animals that you bring into your house, you’re kind of assuming that risk with that,” said Kortney Jaworski, herpetology curator at the Virginia Living Museum.
George Lambert, a former reptile keeper at several zoos who is currently working at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, elaborated in a Facebook post.
“If you’re going to keep exotic venomous, please stock your own antivenom,” Lambert wrote. “It is irresponsible and dangerous to rely on other facilities to be sacrificing their safety net for your mistakes. Now these zoos and aquariums have to replenish their stock, and most likely won’t be reimbursed by the patient.
“Bitis rhinoceros and B. gabonica are not snakes to be complacent with (nor are any venomous snake or large constrictor), but the former is one of the most commonly kept exotic venomous snake kept in the private sector due to their beautiful coloration and patterning that helps them camouflage within the leaf litter of African rainforest.
“Not a snake to be reckoned with, and preparedness is key to keeping such an animal.”