Slice, a diamond back rattlesnake, slithers around an open area just feet away from me. He’s much longer and faster than a water moccassin and his bite is much faster and more painful.
Working on my story on Antivenin and how it’s created brought up many surprising pieces of information and opportunities that I never thought I would have. The journey began with contacting several different people in regards to antivenin (or anti-venom – they are used interchangeably). This seemed easy enough, but the thing about journalism is that you don’t always get what you ask for. My two top choices for experts on this story included a professor at the university as well as the head of the Miami Dade Venom Research crew.
Unfortunately, time, knowledge, and PR got in the way and I had to improvise. It’s always surprising when you choose an expert who doesn’t know much about how something is made, but rather how it is used which happened to be the case with my original choices. Instead, I chose to do research on my own and realized that antivenin wasn’t the cure that people thought it was. As a doctor put in during our interview “It’s not the cure all be all.” Antivenin was really a form of a vaccine that helped boost your antibodies in fighting the venom.
With knowledge in hand, I then decided to visit the local zoo to get first hand experience with the snakes as well as get an idea for just what I was dealing with. Two of Florida’s most venomous snakes, the rattlesnake and moccasin, were there and I found out that despite what people think, not all facilities are equipped with antivenin.
Surprisingly, most hospitals and zoo’s don’t have it at all and it’s in short stock not because the snakes are disappearing, but because it’s expensive and dangerous to make anti-venom. On top of that, it takes a lot of venom to create just a pint of anti-venom… Talk about wow.
Working on this story has been fun, enlightening, and slightly dangerous, but it has been totally worth it and I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
The water moccasin “Rossco”, pictured above, was only about a foot (or less) away from me while zookeepers talked about how deadly it was.