Australia’s highly venomous King Brown snake is helping save lives through Australian Reptile Park’s breeding program with 25 hatchlings born at the park this week entering into an anti venom program, saving up to 300 lives per year.
As the first zoo in Australia to successfully breed King Brown’s, Tim Faulkner General Manager and Head of Conservation at Australian Reptile Park, talks about the complexity in the mating process, “Australian Reptile Park is proud to be the sole provider of raw venom for Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in Melbourne (CSL Bio) for the production of anti-venom and in order to keep up with the demand we need to contribute to the mating process of the most highly venomous species.
“When breeding King Brown snakes, park keepers are required to intervene in the mating cycle by simulating seasons, temperatures, daylight and habitat to ensure the snakes are at their prime for mating.
“Park keepers also have to become involved in the egg incubation process, which can take up to 60 days before a youngling hatches. When born the little snakes break open their eggs with a small tooth and sit inside the egg with their head poking out until they’re ready to leave their safety zone, this usually takes 24 hours. Their average size once out of the egg is approximately 30cm.
“King Brown snakes are venomous from the minute they are born but we wait until they’re older to milk them for maximum venom production. On birth they’re still capable to cause death through biting, so all caution is taken when helping raise them.
“For the park the venom program is very important but so is conservation and this species of King Brown is under considerable threat in Northern NSW due to the introduction of cane toads, which are killing them in wild and interrupting the eco-system of nature.”
Australian Reptile Park milk up to 150 snakes species per week providing venom to CSL Bio and have done so since the 1950s. Once at CSL Bio the venom is injected into Percheron horses. Over 250 horses take part in the anti-venom program, all living the life of luxury. They undergo minimal stress during the inoculation and extraction processes. Inoculation is harmless, and extraction is as simple as donating blood for humans.
The horses are given increasing doses of venom over a period of time until they have built up sufficient antibodies to the venom. After this has occurred, antibodies are extracted from the blood, purified and reduced to a useable form.
The anti-venoms taken from the horses are used to treat humans suffering from snake envenomation. Injected into the human bloodstream, the antibodies attack the venom, neutralising its effects. The dose of anti-venom given to a patient varies according to the species responsible for the bite and, when it can be ascertained, the amount of venom injected. The age and weight of the victim makes no difference to the dose of anti-venom required in the treatment.