As if the Pakistani government wasn’t already catching enough flak for its inefficacy, now some learned herpetologists are criticizing its lackluster approach to rounding up poisonous snakes:
A report jointly prepared by Snake Research Academy (SRA) and University of Sindh, Jamshoro (SUJ) has slammed the snake catching methodology of the National Institute of Health Sciences (NIHS), Islamabad.
The authors of the report, Prof. Dr Ghulam Sarwar Gachal of SUJ and Snake Research Academy (SRA) Project Manager Tanveer Ahmed Shaikh, had both recently undertaken a visit to NIHS to observe the methodology of extracting venom employed, and to initiate interaction and exchange expertise to save snake species. However, they returned with unfavorable impressions.
They said that Sindh contributes 2,000 venomous snakes annually to fulfill the entire NIHS requirement of extract venom to manufacture anti-snake bite vaccines (ASVs). To achieve this purpose, NIHS had hired traditional snake charmers to catch poisonous reptiles from the wild and hand it over to them. The two researchers however maintained that this was an unscientific methodology for extracting venom.
The report said that when the researchers observed NIHS officials extracting venom, they realised that the methodology being employed was traditional and unscientific. The researchers alleged that NIHS personnel extract venom from the snakes after every 15 days, and continue doing so till the reptile dies.
It is worth remembering here that NIHS produces between 30,000 and 32,000 vaccines annually. Each vaccine contains 10ml, and is sold at a fixed price of Rs700.
The report warned that if the NIHS continues to apply its method of catching poisonous snakes and killing them for extracting venom, Sindh will be deprived of its natural species within three years.
Actually, our vague familiarity with the world of antivenin production makes us question the Pakistani researchers’ critique. Venom extraction has been altered little by the advent of new technology; even in the most advanced settings, the process still basically consists of manually forcing fangs onto a glass dish. (Video here.) On top of that, the 15-day waiting period is within the guidelines employed by American zoos, who recommend that venom be allowed to accumulate for between 14 and 30 days.
As merely hinted at later in the article, the problem actually seems to be the black market. Those snake charmers are apparently abusing their licenses and siphoning off venom for sale to health-care institutions (or individual victims) priced out of the government-run antivenin bank. American proponents of drug reform, take note—we foresee a similar scenario coming to fruition should the California marijuana model go nationwide. Regulation (particularly price control and taxation) is a tricky beast when the product in question can be manufactured for a relative pittance.