The snake-y facts

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s Manhattan-like city with not a beach in sight, sits inland from Rio de Janeiro and presents a cool ear to the samba. They have their hotel towers and sport sober types of inhabitants unlike those flamboyant Cariocas in Rio.

But they have the famous Butantan Snake Institute, which Renato and I visited.
On entering, we faced a low-walled enclosure dotted with concrete igloos and here and there a snake. As we stood there, other snakes poked their heads out of the igloos, tongues flickering. Fascinating, though the walls were too low, I thought. We then entered the building where a a display of venom gathering was to start.

And this is where I describe the process in The Snake Woman of Ipanema,only slightly embellished for dramatic effect.

A white-coated man came out on the platform with a snake coiled about his arm; an assistant, carrying a glass container covered with a membrane, positioned it under the snake’s mouth and pressed the animal’s head down onto the membrane, through which we saw drops of venom fall into the container.

Ho hum. This was nothing special spectator wise but there was a second act. The assistant walked off with the container and returned carrying a long tube that looked like a bicycle pump. She grabbed the snake’s head, inserted the tube and forced it down into its body which straightened alarmingly. The man holding the snake offered an explanation that they were feeding it. I’m not clear on why they couldn’t just let it feed on its own. Perhaps they had run short of rats or some such animal.

Renato and I didn’t want to see the next exhibit, which involved injecting snake venom into old horses in order to harvest the antivenin therefrom. I wish they were, instead, injecting it into the assistant. I’m sure she would have produced some very useful antivenin.


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