May 29, 2016 Ray Morgan

Antivenom Should be Required for Private Keepers

(This article was originally published by Kristen Wiley of Kentucky Reptile Zoo and is reproduced here with permission.)

In light of recent events and conversations here on Facebook and elsewhere, Jim and I decided it was time to make a post about private individuals keeping venomous snakes. In general, neither of us have a problem with it — it is certainly possible for private keepers to do a great job and be safe and responsible — however we do have a big problem with the fact that most private keepers do not have their own antivenom. Please note that we are talking here about private keeping in the US — we are aware that in some other countries, especially some in Europe, the government actually does have foreign antivenom to treat private individuals. That is not the case in the US.

Antivenom is not a luxury. It is the necessary safety net that should be REQUIRED to keep venomous snakes, especially those not native to the place where they are being kept. It is not a mystical potion that is unobtainable by mere mortals. I am going to address several excuses why people say they can’t get it here.

1. It costs too much.

Wrong. It is not prohibitively expensive, and if the cost of it is prohibitive, guess what, you can’t afford to keep venomous snakes. Here are some real prices: Thai Red Cross neuro or hemato polyvalent — $60/ vial. Only keep Naja kaouthia and don’t need the polyvalent? The monovalents are $40/vial. South African Polyvalent: $315/vial. Costa Rican Polyvalent I haven’t bought in a while because we’ve had Bioclon, but maybe $100-150/vial these days. In general you need 10 vials to be safe. 20 for a king cobra. Maybe you will need more in a very bad bite, but if you have at least that you can at least get started, and that will be enough for the vast majority of bites. Between those three companies you can cover the vast vast majority of snakes kept in private hands. So the most expensive one is SAVP — that’s a little over $3000. I bet most people with serious collections have more than that in cages alone. Keep in mind that antivenom does not need to be replaced every year — all the ones I listed above have 3- to 5-year expiry dates, so that is not an annual expense.

2. I can’t get it.

Wrong. YOU CAN! The problem is it is a pain in the ass because you have to deal with the FDA, a government agency, and there are forms to fill out and it is intimidating. However, in my experience the FDA is not interested in making things hard for people trying to keep antivenom for emergency use, which is what this is. I have called them and gotten help when I needed it or had questions. You can too! I will be happy to send anyone who asks the pdf we have that gives some guidance on how to get your own antivenom. I know a couple of private keepers who have done this and now keep their own stock.

3. Even if I get it, the hospital won’t use it.

Nope. If you have an IND, the Dr. is obligated to use it. Sure they may be worried- I myself have had one who was very hesitant. But if you are keeping a bunch of exotic venomous snakes, you have to send a letter to the hospital and let them know what you have and that you have the antivenom legally. Give them some notice so you don’t seem like a Yahoo with a snake fetish when you show up. Develop a relationship if at all possible. You’ll have to have a sponsor anyway for the IND- you can use that physician as a contact to get in touch with the hospital ED folks. You also need a written protocol that can be handed to the ED when you arrive. Joe has some! If you expect expired antivenom to be used on you, you MUST also have a signed release stating you want it used on you. No doctor is going to risk his/her medical license by giving expired product.

4. I don’t need it because I will never get bit.

Yeah, but what if you do? There is a reason car insurance is required even if you are a very safe driver. Things happen. People make mistakes — even you. Idiots could distract you. Equipment could malfunction. I personally have had both a hook and a grabstick break during use. The hook breaking was interesting. Not in a good way. The point is everyone makes mistakes, and shit happens. Be prepared for it.

5. It’s my life. I’m not affecting anyone else if I get bit.

Unless you are a hermit with no living family or friends this is not true. If you die or are severely injured, who is going to take care of you during your rehab? Won’t your mother be sad? Do you support kids? Who is going to do that if you can’t work for a period of time? Also, if you use a zoo’s antivenom, YOU ARE AFFECTING THE PEOPLE AND ANIMALS AT THAT ZOO. I do not keep antivenom for you. I keep it for myself, my husband, and my hard-working employees. If any of us make a mistake (see above about everyone making mistakes) it is MY responsibility to make sure we are ok. When you use our antivenom, you are making us choose between working the animals without our safety net, or letting the animals languish because we really shouldn’t be working them without antivenom. Last year we provided some Echis antivenom to an idiot who was freehandling his Chlorechis. At that time we were working on an order of Echis venom. So should we put our business on hold so someone can play with their pet? Should the researcher have to wait a few months to conduct their research so someone can think they are ‘one’ with their venomous snake?

6. Venom One will take care of me!

This is only true if you are in Florida, preferably south of Tampa. Venom One does an admirable job, but they can’t get antivenom to you in Pennsylvania or Arizona or Ohio very quickly. Plus, if you are in one of those states, your tax dollars are not supporting them. I don’t want this to happen, but it seems to me that sooner or later the taxpayers in Miami-Dade county are going to realize their tax funds are going out of state or to people who are behaving dangerously on purpose, and the funding is going to go away. At the very first Venom Week, a quite prominent doctor was very adamant to Jim and I that he did not believe they could cover any place but south and maybe central FL. Antivenom should be administered in two hours to be its most effective. It takes that long to get admitted, have the ED call them, and for them to get on their way. If you are more than maybe an hour by helicopter, you are too far away to rely on them.

Keeping an animal that can kill you is a great responsibility. If you choose to keep without antivenom, know that in my opinion you are irresponsible, reckless, and have no respect for those of us who endeavor to do it properly. I don’t care how long you have been keeping or how knowledgeable you think you are, or how many people in the community support you. We as a group are looking at this wrong, we have developed a culture of recklessness and I for one am tired of it.

Questions? Comments?

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