Sunday, June 19, 2011

Centenarian snake handler dies

I've been waiting for an opportunity to add this incredible photo of western green mambas by Guido Mocafico to Quigley's Cabinet and I found it in the obituary I read yesterday. Bill Haast (1910-2011), director of the Miami Serpentarium Laboratories, died on Wednesday.

Hast had handled some 3 million poisonous snakes over the years, including rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, copperheads, cobras, and pit vipers. He was bitten at least 173 times by poisonous snakes - the 1st time at age 12 - but built up his immunity by injecting himself daily for more than 60 years with a mix of venoms from 32 snake species.

The Serpentarium drew 50,000 tourists a year for four decades (it closed to the public in 1984). Several times a day, Hast would demonstrate how he milked venom from the snakes. The substance, which can sell for upwards of $5,000 per gram, is essential for making antivenin to treat snakebite victims, like the Florida man bitten by his pet puff adder last week. Hast worked with a Miami doctor to inject thousands of people with the serum and also flew around the world to donate his antibody-rich blood to 21 different snakebite victims.

Here are a few memorable quotes from one of the most recognizable snake-handlers:
Haast died of natural causes at his home in southwest Florida. He did live to the ripe old age of 100. Tweeted a North Carolina chemist: “Resssssssst in Peace Bill Haast.”

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