Butantan, Brazil’s World Class Snake Farm

Most of us are afraid of snakes but some have a phobia that will not let them even see a snake. That is the way it was with Florence, one of our missionary team in the Sao Paulo area. One day our families were visiting Butantan, the snake farm near Sao Paulo University when we came to the first deep trough where there were a number of venomous snakes. Florence turned from it. I think she might have fainted if her husband had not led her away.  I can still see her with a hand over her mouth holding in a scream.

The Brazilian constrictor snake, the Anaconda may grow to 30 feet and weigh well over 500 pounds. Though it may drop out of tree onto a passerby, or attack from the water, yet it may not be nearly as deadly as those one would find at Butantan. We have an Anaconda skin in case you’d like to see or touch one–we could do it while having coffee some day.

So why have this wide variety of poisonous snakes at this Institute? It is there they milk the venom from snakes and from it make anti-venom serum. When we lived in Sao Paulo it was the only place in the world that produced anti-venom for the coral snake. Also they do research into the varied types of venom trying to understand the venom’s effects on the blood, nerves and inflammation of muscles.

So what difference did poisonous snakes make to us? Just this. Our seminary was located in a pocket of jungle not far from the city of Sao Paulo and poisonous snakes were present. We never lived there but since it was a beautiful place we occasionally dropped by. On one of those times we found snakes had been busy. You see, the school had kept two cows to provide milk for children but that day those cows had been bitten and died. The culprit was likely the Cascavel, a rattler double the length and larger than a man’s arm. It would also be more venomous than our North American rattlesnake. Apparently the cows were grazing on a cleared hillside when they no doubt disturbed a pair of snakes sunning themselves.  One strike from a Cascavel and a cow would be down.

One of our guys who lived there, when he was putting on a shoe was bitten by a poisonous spider. He immediately drove over the hills to a pharmacy in a nearby village. When there they realized he could not take the anti-venom serum since he would react to the protein involved. He just sweat it out—I mean he really sweat it out.

The country folk seemed to take the presence of snakes in stride. One dark evening the caretaker at the seminary was returning to his home when he felt a tug on his pant leg. A snake had caught its fangs in his denim trousers. He turned on his flashlight, reached down, grabbed it behind its head and with one twist it was dead. The snake was identified as extremely venomous. It was the dreaded Sete Passos that refers to the seven steps a person might take after such a bite before dropping dead.

You might think, “I’d never live in such a dangerous place.” Understood! Though the staff there did its best to keep the grass cut back so snakes could not hide, the houses were just a stone’s from the bush.  It is interesting that a number of couples raised their children in that local and though they seemed to ramble all over the place, yet none were ever bitten. With that I must mention that another one of the “Sete Passos” snakes was found next to a home. The caretaker came, found where it was hiding and dispatched it to snake heaven.

We visited this place with our two children for they loved to play with the others there. I never recall putting restrictions on their activities; I suppose those they played with knew where not to go. Adding to the jungle habitat for snakes were three ponds fed by a stream coming out of the hills.  But I do not recall ever having to warn our children of the water or snakes.

But I never think of Butantan that my thoughts do not go back to the seminary nestled in the jungle, the ponds and the danger of snakes. Me? I believe that angels intervened to keep all of all our children safe. Butantan could provide the anti-venom that would save a life but better yet was the presence of angels working overtime.


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