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:
- "My slogan, when I first started the serpentarium, was ‘venom production for venom research.’ The attraction was just a vehicle for the research. It was the only way I could make money to support the work. The attraction grew and grew. Being in front of people wasn’t particularly fun for me — I wanted to be in the lab — but it was a chore that had to be done."
- "The initial bite is no worse than a bee sting. But when there’s tissue damage, it feels like your hand is caught in a vise. There have been times I’ve been rolling on the floor."
- “You could have a snake for 30 years and the second you leave his cage door cracked, he’s gone....And they’ll never come to you unless you’re holding a mouse in your teeth.”
- "Aging is hard. Sometimes, you feel useless. But I always felt I would live this long. It was intuitive. I always told people I’d live past 100, and I still feel I will. Is it the venom? I don’t know."
- "I could become a poster boy for the benefits of venom. If I live to be 100, I’ll really make the point."