Death By Snake Bite

The Guardian has an interesting story about snake bite deaths in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The story documents about how the effects of snakebites are compounded by the DRC’s lack of infrastructure and poverty.

One of the fascinating statistics in the story is how many people die worldwide from snakebites,

Globally, about 5m snake bites occur worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization, resulting in between 81,000 and 138,000 deaths. A bite from a viper, cobra or mamba can kill in a matter of hours or leave a victim suffering life-changing injury.

I would not have thought the total deaths would be so high, so decided to track down the WHO statistics that The Guardian cites,

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that about 5 million snakebites occur each year, resulting in up to 2.7 million envenomings. Published reports suggest that between 81,000 and 138,000 deaths occur each year. Snakebite envenoming causes as many as 400,000 amputations and other permanent disabilities. Many snakebites go unreported, often because victims seek treatment from non-medical sources or do not have access to health care. As a result it is believed that many cases of snakebite go unreported.

That underreporting means the actual total of snake bites and deaths may be significantly higher,

One of the consequences of inadequate efforts to control snakebite envenoming in the past is that the available epidemiological data are fragmented and lack both resolution and completeness. Accuracy is further reduced by the fact that many victims do not attend health centres or hospitals, and instead rely on traditional treatments. As a result, in some countries the degree of under-reporting is greater than 70% especially in rural areas with poor infrastructure.

Researchers Explore Ways to Reduce Animals Killed in Environmental Testing

Scientists at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory recently reported on a new toxicology study that might reduce the number of animals killed to test how much of an environmental contaminant remains in animals living in environments where the contaminant is present.

Traditionally animals are captured, killed and then tested for contaminant levels. University of Georgia researchers Brian Jackson, William Hopkins, and Jennifer Baionno are working on an alternative that involves using a laser to take small samples from the tails of animals rather than killing the animal.

They took a group of banded water snakes, and fed two groups of snakes contaminated fish (they also used a control group that was fed non-contaminated fished). The researchers then used the laser technique on one of the groups of snakes and the traditional method on the other group of snakes, and then compared the resulting data.

The similarity was close enough that they concluded that,

Taken together, the findings from this study suggest that laser ablation of micro-dissected tissue shows promise as a non-destructive technique for conservation-minded exo-toxicological studies.


UGA scientists test less lethal means to determine contaminant uptake. Press Release, University of Georgia, July 21, 2003.

Indian Researchers Working on Egg-Derived Snake Antivenin

National Geographic News reported in February that Indian scientists have found a method to use poultry eggs to produce an inexpensive snake bite antidote that could potentially save thousands of lives each year.

Snake bites are a serious problem in India, with National Geographic reporting that there are 300,000 such cases each year with as many as ten percent of victims dying because they do not receive anti-venom in time.

The current method of producing the treatment is to immunize horses against the venom of the cobra, common krait, saw-scaled viper and Russell’s viper. The horse antibodies are then used as an antidote in humans (of course, PETA will likely soon have a “Snake Antivenin is Horse’s Blood” campaign any day now). This is a very slow process.

National Geographic describes the new process that Indian researchers are attempting to perfect,

Very young chickens are immunized with small doses of the target-snake venom and as these animals grow older they develop in their blood special proteins which act as antidotes against the toxin, according to the researchers.

As the chickens become hens and start egg production, it has been found that the antivenin proteins are passed on, accumulating in the yolk. The eggs are then harvested for extraction of the proteins used to make the antidote.

The research has even garnered the endorsement of India’s most prominent animal rights activist, Maneka Gandhi,

Production of diagnostic and therapeutic products in chicken represent a refinement and reduction in animal use, and the collection of blood is replaced by extraction of antibody from egg yolk. As chickens produce larger amounts of antibodies, there is a reduction in the number of animals we need to use.


Poultry eggs may yield snake antivenin, experts say. Pallava Bagla, National Geographic News, February 11, 2003.

PETA Protests Military Survival Training

One of the major missions of
the U.S. military is to ensure its soldiers have the skills needed to
not only fight effectively but also to train them to survive the myriad of conditions they might face in armed combat. As part of that mission, the military provides training
to soldiers on how to survive if they are trapped behind enemy lines.

Since eating
is a big part of surviving and a stranded soldier cannot just walk into
an Iraqi restaurant and order takeout, the military teaches soldiers how to kill and cook animals.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is having a fit because the Air Force buys hundreds of rabbits and
uses them to show soldiers how to bludgeon the animal with a club and
then properly prepare them. Soldiers are also taught how to prepare snakes,
turtles and chickens.

According to PETA, “It is
pointless for a soldier to practice killing small domestic mammals and
birds, considering that in a true survival experience, few would have
trouble killing such an animal if survival depended on it.” Well at least
PETA’s not suggesting that soldiers should carry Linda McCartney t-shirts
saying “Go Veggie” on them if in a survival situation, but simply assuming
that all soldiers would know how to kill animals for food is the sort
of assumption that gets people killed when they are finally faced with
emergency situations.

In other news, PETA announced
in a press release that MediaCom Inc. had cancelled the billboard space
that PETA purchased in Regina and Calgary, Canada to run its ad linking
meat eating to impotence. The ad features a woman in a bikini next to
the message, “I threw a party but the cattlemen couldn’t come.” According
to PETA, MediaCom informed the animal rights group that it received so
many calls from “angry residents and women’s groups” that it was yanking
the ads. PETA said its lawyers are studying whether or not PETA might
have a legal remedy against MediaCom for breach of contract.