Thailand, being a tropical country, abounds with snakes of great varieties, poisonous as well as harmless. Each year a large number of casualties are caused by venomous snakebite. Therefore the Thai Red Cross Society deemed it necessary to establish a snake farm to keep different poisonous snakes for venom collection in order to produce antivenine sera for treatment of snake poisoning. Dr. L. Robert, the first director of the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute, received contributions from foreigners residing in this country, and with the money collected, a snake farm was built in the premises of the Institute. This was the second snake farm established in the world and was officially opened on November 22, 1923. The Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute constitutes the Science Division of the Thai Red Cross Society which was formerly named Pasteur Institute. The main function of the Institute is the manufacture of vaccines and sera.

The snake farm is an attraction in Bangkok for tourists from all parts of the world. It is visited by scientists, educational bodies and distinguished visitors. Different kinds of poisonous snakes found in the country are kept for venom extraction which is demonstrated to the public at scheduled hours. These venomous snakes are brought in alive by snakecatchers who are farmers by profession and they are paid for at prices according to size and species.

Poisonous snakes found in Thailand are Cobra, King Cobra, Banded Krait, Russell's Viper, a few species of Pit Vipers and some species of Sea Snakes.

Numerous kinds of snakes other than mentioned above, though common in this country are not of importance to human lives because they are slightly poisonous or nonpoisonous. Their bites often cause alarm but generally are not dangerous.

Features of Snakes: By nature, snakes are not aggressive and will attack human beings only under provocation. They see better at night and therefore will not naturally be seen around in broad daylight. Snakes have no external ears and are deaf to sounds. A snake can quickly perceive the approach of a footstep by the vibration conveyed through the ground with which it's body is in contact. The tongue is an organ of smell.

Snakes feed on animals. King Cobras live on live snakes. Water snakes live on fish. Other species live on rats, frogs, insects etc. A snake prefers food killed by itself. Once having fed, the snake will not require food for days.

The majority of snakes lay eggs and in general the vipers bear their young alive.

Snakes cast their skin periodically, more frequently in the younger stage. After molting they are very active and the colors are at their brightest.

Taking the venom from the snake

Taking the venom from the snake

Snake Venom: A poisonous snake has two fangs, which are grooved or hollow teeth, situated at the front of the upper jaw. Each fang is connected by a duct to a poison gland behind the eye on the corresponding side. These two poison glands are modified salivary glands, the secretion of which is called venom. When the snake bites, the venom is excreted into the fang wounds. Venom probably helps the snake is killing its prey and facilitates digestion.

Fresh venom is clear viscid liquid and yellowish in color. The extracted venom, when dried, forms yellow crystals which retain toxicity and solubility in water for a long time, and is used for immunizing horses in the production of antivenine sera and also for research work.

Questions & Answers

Q: Why are the men who handle the snakes for venom extraction not bitten? Are they immunized against snake poisoning?
A: Snakes are generally not aggressive but they will bite when provoked. In the process of venom extraction the snake is handled gently by experienced men who are trained to do the job with care and confidence. They are not immune by any means and have to be treated with antivenine serum if they happen to be bitten. Such accidents rarely occur and are mostly due to carelessness.

Q: How often can venom be taken from each snake?
A: Venom extraction should not be repeated until after 2 weeks or longer.

Q: How much venom does a snake yield and how many persons can this amount of venom kill?
A: The yield and potency of venom vary with different species of snakes. By applying light pressure over the glands the average yield of liquid venom from a Cobra at one extraction is about two thirds of a gram in weight. It is impossible to determine the exact fatal dose of snake venom for humans. This average yield of venom froma Cobra is sufficient to kill approximately 50,000 mice or 1,000 rabbits.

Q: How many eggs does a snake lay at one time and how long does it take before the eggs hatch?
A: Number of eggs and incubation period vary in different species of snakes. A female Cobra may lay 20-30 eggs. Incubation period from the time of laying to the time of hatching varies in different species. It has been recorded that it ranges from 40 to 136 days. In captivity the eggs do not hatch and the young live vipers do not survive.

Q: Are Cobras the only snakes milked for venom?
A: All poisonous snakes brought to our snake farm are milked for venom on arrival. Since Cobras are the most common deadly snakes in this country, specific antivenine serum against Cobra poisoning is in great demand and this is turn requires larger amount of Cobra venom for teh production of Cobra antivenine serum.

Q: How can one distinguish a snake that is not yet milked from one that has already been milked?
A: A snake that is not yet milked for venom will show bulging of poison glands which are aituated just behind the eyes.

Q: Is King Cobra not more dangerous than Cobra?
A: King Cobra is the largest poisonous snake. A full grown specimen is over four metres in length. The amount of venom excreted on biting would be very large and surely fatal but on dry weight basis Cobra venom is about 10 times as toxic as King Cobra venom. However there has been no authentic case of natural King Cobra bite on record in Thailand.

Q: What is the most deadly snake?
A: By considering the lethal dose of venom in experimantal animals and severity of poisoning in humans, Cobra is the most deadly. In a fatal case of Cobra bite the victim dies in a short time, about one to six hours.

Cha-on Pungnam, 54, one of the officers and presenters at the snake farm told Student Weekly about his job of milking venom from snakes, “My job is to present the snake show. Once a king cobra bit me in the finger. I was rushed to the hospital and the doctor injected me with a serum. Unfortunately, two weeks later, my finger turned black because of necrosis and had to be amputated. Cha-on who has been at the Snake Farm for 14 years said, “to catch snakes you should learn their habit, must be sure in your movements and you must be confident.”

The Snake Farm is located on Rama IV Road in Bangkok. It opens on weekdays from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. and on weekends and holiday from 8.30 a.m. to 12.00 noon. It costs 70 baht. For more information call 252-0161-4. There is a show at 11 a.m. and 2.30 p.m. on weekedays and 11 a.m. at the weekend and on holidays. Come half an hour earlier as there is a slide show first explaing about the snake farm, and then during the show afterwards, you can see them take the venom from the snakes. It is not worth going to the snake farm at other times.

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