How is Venom Produced?
One of the important functions of the Australian Reptile Park, along with education and tourism, is the collection of venom from deadly species of snakes and spiders. The venom is used by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories – better known as BioCSL Limited, to manufacture the only Australian antivenoms that save human snake bite and spider bite victims. The Reptile Park is the sole supplier of the venoms required by BioCSL Limited in the production of antivenoms for terrestrial snakes (not sea snakes) and funnel-web spiders. To keep up the supply of venoms, highly trained staff of the Australian Reptile Park regularly ‘milk’ more than 300 snakes and 500 spiders that are included in the program.
A simplified explanation of how the snake antivenoms are produced, is that extremely small amounts of say, tiger snake venom are injected into huge Percheron horses on a regular basis over a long period of time. The amounts are so small that the horses are not affected except that this produces antibodies to counteract the foreign substance in its system. After some 10-12 months of this immunological ‘conditioning’, a small proportion of each horse’s blood is removed and the plasma is extracted. This plasma contains the antibodies which, when injected into a snake bite victim, will neutralize snake venom.
In the case of funnel-web spider antivenom, rabbits are used instead of horses. These animals suffer no ill-effects and are used repeatedly to help save human lives in this fashion. Some of the horses have been carrying out this essential service to Australians for many years. The funnel-web spider program at the Park depends largely upon the provision of male specimens from the area within 150 km of Sydney.