Friday, July 07, 2017

In case you were wondering about working as a snake milker

What better way to spend a lazy summer Friday work day than pondering a job you’ll never hold – and, in truth, have likely never heard of. At least I’d never heard of it, until I saw a short bit in a recent Sunday NY Times magazine.

The article focused on one Jim Harrison who, for over 40 years, has milked up to 1,000 snakes per week, with the venom used for drug research.

Bad enough that you can get bitten – Harrison has been 10 times over the years – or end up, as Harrison did, with an amputated fingertip when that fingertip had a way too close encounter with a horned viper. It gets even worse. And that’s because, when you’re milking the fang end of the snake, that snake may well be shitting on you.

‘‘When I’m done extracting the cobras, I’m covered in feces and my wife won’t come close to me,’’ Harrison says. (Source: NY Times)

Well, this might not be the absolute bottom of the jobs I wouldn’t want. That would probably be executioner. But it would be right down there in the bad job snakepit.

Reading about Harrison made me want to learn more about him and venom extractors. Fortunately there was an old Business Insider article that filled in a number of gaps.

In the BI article, I found that a Harrison, who owns (and runs) the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, actually does snake milking for free. He started out, career-wise, as a police officer. This gig lasted until he was run down by a stolen car, which gave him a pension that could support his reptilian interests. Being a herpetologist – the fancy name for snake milker – is a labor of love.

The potentially life-saving uses [pain, cancer, strokes, Alzheimer’s] of snake venom are the backbone of why Harrison loves what he does. Helping a cause is the best part of his job, he says, and his proudest moment to date is a project that's currently underway.

Harrison is involved with an organization called Animal Venom Research International (AVRI). They are working to develop an antivenom for Sri Lanka, which has the world's highest rate of snake bite deaths per person, with a large number of the victims being children, Harrison says. (Source: Business Insider)

Well, I’m glad there’s someone willing to do this. Just not me, snakes not being my favorite member of the animal kingdom. Oh, I’m okay with the odd garter snake, but mostly I’m just not a snake person. In the animal pantheon, I’m not sure if they rate above or below rats, but snakes are surely the stuff of nightmares. (And let’s not go Freudian on me here. Fish are one thing, but there’s just something plain creepy and off-putting about a legless, armless land creature. Evolve, why don’t you, and stop slithering, snakily sneaking around.)

Although Harrison works gratis, there are paid snake milkers. And, according to Job Monkey, they make snakeshit: $30K a year - even though “one gram of certain types of snake venom can sell for $2,000.” That sure seems fair.

Anyway, here’s how you do the job:

This entails, stretching latex over a jar and having the snake bite the jar. The venom is extracted in two ways, manually massaging the venom glands or electric stimulation that contracts the muscles around the glands. Both ways cause a yellow, deadly venom to spit out into the jar. Next the venom is freeze-dried and used by or sold to pharmaceutical companies, laboratories, and universities for research and production.

Snake milkers don’t just milk. They’re snake breeders, too. Kind of like running a dairy farm, I guess.

And even though the pay is miserable, it requires a degree in something science-y. And practice handling snakes. (You start with the non-poisonous kind.)

All sorts of jobs are being automated – one, by the way, is dairy cow milker – and if ever there were a candidate for job automation, I’d give it to snake milker. Near death experience, low pay, and you come home covered in shit. Yuck!

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