This page is a collection of articles and photos (many taken by me) of William E. Haast of Miami Serpentarium Labs. I am proud to be a long time friend, former employee, and one of many past suppliers of venomous snakes to Bill Haast & Miami Serpentarium Labs. Rest in the Lord's peace, Bill. Ray Hunter, Sc.D.
(L>R) Nancy Haast, Ray Hunter, Bill Haast
Bill with Egyptian Cobra (photo by Ray Hunter)
Bill catching Egyptian Cobra (photo by Ray Hunter)
Bill catching a King Cobra (photo by Ray Hunter)
The catch (photo by Ray Hunter)
Bill & wife (Nancy) extracting venomfrom King Cobra (photo by Ray Hunter)
(L.R) Me, Bill Haast, my mom, my dad. My dad wanted me to introduce him to Bill to discuss some invention ideas. (photo by Nancy Haast)
Bill catching an Egyptian Cobra
Bill & Nancy extracting venom from a King Cobra at the old Miami Serpentarium
Bill & King Cobra (photo from "Cobras In His Garden" Biography on Bill Haast
Bill in cage with 5 King Cobras (photo from "Cobras In His Garden" Biography on Bill Haast
Last photo I took of Bill (in 1.5 acre Rattlesnake pit, holding an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake) (photo by Ray Hunter)
scan of old Miami Serpentarium post card bought off ebay
scan of promo picture Bill signs and gives out
Bill Haast speaking in Orlando, FL at Herpetological meeting in June, 1991 -- photo by Ray Hunter
Bill catching a cobra as his wife watches
Bill extracting venom from a Coral Snake
5 foot E.D. Rattlesnake I donated to Bill (photo by Ray Hunter)
Chinese Cobra (N.atra) I donated to Bill (photo by Ray Hunter)
Catching a cobra (photo by Ray Hunter)
Bill weighing a Coral Snake I brought him (photo by Ray Hunter)
Bill shows Donna Hamm a Gila Monster (photo by Ray Hunter)
Bill catching a Red Spitting Cobra (photo by Ray Hunter)
Bill holding a Banded Krait (me in the background) Photo by Nancy Haast
Nancy Haast with one of her prize winning show horses (photo by Ray Hunter)
Nancy Haast with one of her llamas (photo by Ray Hunter)
inside 1.5 acre Rattlesnake pit (photo by Ray Hunter)
Cage area with air recirculator (photo by Ray Hunter)
4 foot Cottonmouth I donated to Bill (photo by Ray Hunter)
Bill milking a Cottonmouth (photo by Ray Hunter)
Tube feeding his special formula to a baby Cottonmouth (photo by Ray Hunter)
Venom extraction area (photo by Ray Hunter)
Venom processing lab (photo by Ray Hunter)
Frozen venom waiting to be processed (photo by Ray Hunter)
Processed venom to be weighed out and sold in dry weight (photo by Ray Hunter)
Bill Haast milking an Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
Bill Haast (with Banded Krait) and Ray Hunter 1991 ---photo by Nancy Haast
NEWS STORIES & ARICLES
William Edward "Bill" HaastBORN: December 30, 1910 DIED: June 15, 2011 RESIDENCE: Punta Gorda, FL
Bill Haast, a Man Charmed by Snakes, Dies at 100
Bill Haast figured he had handled more than three million poisonous snakes over the years, and he had the hands to prove it.
Bill Haast in 1996 at his serpentarium in Punta Gorda, Fla., with a Chinese cobra. His first serious bite came at age 12.
An eastern diamondback rattlesnake left one hand looking like a claw. A Malayan pit viper mangled an index finger. A cottonmouth bit a finger, which instantly turned black, prompting his wife to snip off the fingertip with garden clippers.
Mr. Haast was bitten at least 173 times by poisonous snakes, about 20 times almost fatally. It was all in a day’s work for probably the best-known snake handler in the country, a scientist-cum-showman who made enough money from milking toxic goo from slithery serpents to buy a cherry-red Rolls-Royce convertible.
A secret of his success was the immunity he had built up by injecting himself every day for more than 60 years with a mix of venoms from 32 snake species. He suspected the inoculations might have explained his extraordinarily good health, but he was reluctant to make that claim, he said, until he reached 100.
Mr. Haast, who was director of the Miami Serpentarium Laboratories, a snake-venom producer near Punta Gorda, Fla., died of natural causes on Wednesday at his home in southwest Florida, his wife, Nancy, said. He was 100.
Mr. Haast’s story was good enough in its day to land him in Walter Winchell’s syndicated column, on “The Tonight Show” and, hardly surprising, in Ripley’s Believe It or Not attractions. His original Miami Serpentarium, south of Miami on South Dixie Highway, attracted 50,000 tourists a year for four decades.
Outside was a 35-foot-high concrete statue of a giant cobra, forked tongue flicking menacingly. Inside, Mr. Haast, the self-proclaimed “Snakeman,” entertained paying customers by using his hands to grab snakes below their heads and force their teeth into soft plastic. Venom would then drain into test tubes fastened to the plastic. He did this 100 or so times a day.
The serpentarium was more than just another roadside attraction. The price of a gram of freeze-dried venom from exotic snakes, requiring 100 or more extractions to accumulate, could exceed $5,000. The substance is an essential ingredient in making a serum to treat snakebite victims. It has also shown promise as a medicinal ingredient.
Mr. Haast and a Miami doctor treated more than 6,000 people with a snake-venom serum that they and their patients contended was effective against multiple sclerosis and arthritis. After the CBS News program “60 Minutes” did a report on the subject in December 1979, interest in the serum surged. But in 1980 the Food and Drug Administration banned the product as useless after saying that numerous deficiencies had been found in Mr. Haast’s manufacturing process. Nevertheless, researchers have continued to work on drugs made from venom in the hope of using it to treat cancer, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
Mr. Haast himself indisputably saved lives. He flew around the world to donate his antibody-rich blood to 21 different snakebite victims. Venezuela made him an honorary citizen after he went deep into the jungle to give a boy a pint of blood.
The favor was returned in 1989 when, according to The Associated Press, the White House used secret connections to spirit a rare serum out of Iran to treat Mr. Haast as he fought to recover from a bite by a Pakistani pit viper. (Different venoms require different antidotes.)
William E. Haast was born on Dec. 30, 1910, in Paterson, N.J. He caught his first garter snake at 7 at a nearby canal. His first serious snake bite came at age 12, when he was bitten by a timber rattlesnake at Boy Scout camp. The same year, a copperhead’s bite put him in the hospital for a week. When young Bill brought his first poisonous snake home to the family apartment, his mother left home for three days, he said. She finally agreed to let him keep a snake or two in cages.
“The snake would bite the mouse,” he said in an interview with The Miami Herald in 1984. “The mouse would die. I found it intriguing.”
He bought his first exotic snake, a diamondback rattler, from a catalog. Noticing that it had come from Florida, he knew then, he said, that Florida was his destiny. After dropping out of school at 16, he joined a roadside snake show that made its way to Florida in the late 1920s.
The snake attraction soon failed during the Depression, so Mr. Haast went to work for a bootlegger in the Everglades, where he was pleased to find plenty of snakes. The bootlegger was arrested, and Mr. Haast found his way to an airline mechanics school.
Finding a job as a flight engineer with Pan American World Airways, he began traveling around the world. That gave him a chance to use his toolbox to smuggle snakes, including his first cobra.
Mr. Haast’s dream of a first-class snake farm came true when he opened his Miami serpentarium in 1947. His near-fatal snakebites became legend in the news media, particularly after the total passed 100 in the mid-1960s.
His first wife, Ann, divorced him over his snake obsession. His second, Clarita, and third, Nancy, pitched in enthusiastically.
Besides his wife, the former Nancy Harrell, he is survived by two daughters, three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
Mr. Haast closed the serpentarium in 1984 after a 6-year-old boy fell into his crocodile pit and was fatally mauled. He moved his venom-gathering operation to Utah. Six years later, he returned to Florida and opened the facility in Punta Gorda, where he raised and milked snakes but did not resume his snake show.
For all the time he spent with snakes, Mr. Haast harbored no illusions that they liked him.
“You could have a snake for 30 years and the second you leave his cage door cracked, he’s gone,” he told Outside magazine in 1997. “And they’ll never come to you unless you’re holding a mouse in your teeth.”
William E. Haast with King Cobra
Icon: Bill Haast Snake handler, venom researcher.
by Art Levy Published 8/1/2008 in Florida Trend
Bill Haast @ 97 2007 [Photo: Jeffrey Camp]
» Four years ago, I got bit by a Malaysian pit viper, and that was the end of my right index finger. The bone just dissolved. Most of my fingers were pretty bad anyway from all the bites, but when that finger went, that was the end. I can’t trust my hands anymore. I tried to hold snakes after that, but I couldn’t.
» These days, what I do mostly, is breathe.
» Hurricane Charlie moved right over our house. I wanted to see it. I stood by the window and put my hand on the glass and could feel it moving.
» The FDA always pooh-poohed it, but I think snake venom has the potential to cure disease. Multiple sclerosis, it would put on hold. Arthritis. Polio. This is my unfinished business.
» Aging is hard. Sometimes, you feel useless. But I always felt I would live this long. It was intuitive. I always told people I’d live past 100, and I still feel I will. Is it the venom? I don’t know.
» I’ve been bit more than 170 times and maybe almost died 20 or 25 times. I don’t count the little bites.
» The initial bite is no worse than a bee sting. But when there’s tissue damage, it feels like your hand is caught in a vise. There have been times I’ve been rolling on the floor.
» When I was a child, I lived right in the middle of Patterson, N.J., in an apartment, and I brought home a timber rattlesnake, my first venomous snake, and I had to promise my mother that I would never open the cage in the house. That’s how I got started.
» I’m not afraid of any animal. I’ve petted a rhinoceros. I once walked up to an elephant right in the heart of the Congo. If you’re really genuinely not frightened, you can walk up to any animal in the wild. They have a sense. They know if they can trust you.
» Occasionally, my wife will give me a shot of snake venom. Just a little bit. It burns when it goes in. I think without fail it’ll help me make 100 easy. I think what it might do, and I don’t have any proof, is it makes the heart function stronger and longer.
Bill Haast [Photo courtsey Bill Haast]
» My blood pressure is normal. My cholesterol is very low. I don’t eat much, and I never eat before noon.
» My slogan, when I first started the serpentarium, was ‘venom production for venom research.’ The attraction was just a vehicle for the research. It was the only way I could make money to support the work. The attraction grew and grew. Being in front of people wasn’t particularly fun for me — I wanted to be in the lab — but it was a chore that had to be done.
» The boy that fell in the pit, that was rough. It happened in 1977. He was 6. I remember I was in the lab doing something and one of the employees comes running in and said a person fell in the crocodile pit. I remember running. I jumped over the wall and on the crocodile’s head. He was partially submerged. I was expecting him to let go, but he didn’t. He backed up in the water and took the child with him.
» I was up all night. What should I do? What should I do? I debated with myself. The crocodile did only what he knew to do. What should I do? I shot him and buried him in the pit, next to a monument. That was a time I considered closing the serpentarium.
» Will anybody remember me? If they do, what will they remember? And when they die, they take the memory with them. What’s the purpose? Memory is a funny thing.
» Some of the most important things I’ve done had nothing to do with snakes. This is during World War II. I was a flight engineer. We took off from Natal, Brazil, in a C-87 transport plane loaded with detonators, and we were on our way to Dakar in Africa. The moment we got off the ground the captain said we lost hydraulic pressure. We blew a gasket, and the hydraulic oil was gone. We always carried a gallon of reserve hydraulic oil and always fortunately carried chewing gum. I got everybody to chew gum, and then I made a new gasket out of the gum with some cutout cardboard from the back of the log book. It worked. We had our wing flaps. Otherwise, we couldn’t have landed. Well, we could have landed, but we would have crashed.
» When you’re in the wild, in Africa, and a lion roars, even in the distance, the ground shakes. I miss that.
********************************************************************************* From Wikipedia
William E. "Bill" Haast (born 1910) is the director of the Miami Serpentarium Laboratories, a facility near Punta Gorda, Florida, which produces snake venom for medical and research use. Haast has been extracting venom from venomous snakes since he was a boy. From 1947 until 1985, he operated the Miami Serpentarium, a tourist attraction south of Miami, Florida, where he extracted venom from snakes in front of paying customers.
Haast physically extracts venom from venomous snakes by holding them by the head and forcing them to strike a rubber membrane covering a vial. As a result of handling these snakes, Haast had been bitten 172 times as of mid 2008, more often than any other known human.Early years
Bill Haast was born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1910. He became interested in snakes while at a Boy Scout summer camp when he was 11 years old. Haast was bitten for the first time at summer camp a year later, when he tried to capture a small Timber Rattlesnake. He applied the standard snake-bite treatment of the time (making crossed cuts over the fang marks) and then walked four miles to the camp's first aid tent, by which time his arm was swollen. He was rushed to see a doctor, but quickly recovered without further treatment. His next bite, later the same year, came from a four-foot Copperhead. Haast was carrying a snake-bite kit, and had a friend inject him with antivenin. However, this bite put him into a hospital for a week.
Bill Haast started collecting snakes, and after initial opposition from his mother, was allowed to keep them at home. He soon learned how to handle the snakes, and found one timber rattler so easy to handle that he posed for a photograph with the snake lying across his lap. He started extracting venom from his snakes when he was 15 years old.
Never a good student, Bill Haast dropped out of school when he was 16 years old. When he was 19 he joined a man who had a roadside snake exhibit, and went with him to Florida. While there Haast ended up rooming with a moonshiner on the edge of the Everglades, and became proficient at capturing all kinds of snakes.
Bill Haast eventually returned home. His mother had leased a concession stand at a lakeside resort, and Haast added a snake exhibit to the business. There he met and eloped with his first wife, Ann. They moved to Florida so that Haast could pursue his dream of opening a snake farm. After Ann became pregnant, and Haast lost his job when the speakeasy he was working at was raided by revenue agents, they moved back to New Jersey.
While in New Jersey, Bill Haast studied aviation mechanics, and was certified after four years. With his certification, he moved to Miami to work for Pan American World Airways. After the United States entered World War II, Haast served as a flight engineer on Pan Am airliners flying under contract to the United States Army Air Corps. These flights took him to South America, Africa and India, where he bought snakes, including his first cobra.The Serpentarium
In 1946 Bill Haast decided he had enough money saved to start his snake farm. He bought a plot of land facing U.S. 1 south of Miami, then sold his house and started construction on the Serpentarium. His wife Ann did not approve, and they were divorced. Haast retained custody of their son, Bill Jr. Haast continued to work as a mechanic for Pan Am while he built the Serpentarium. During this time Haast met and married his second wife, Clarita Matthews.
The Serpentarium opened at the end of 1947, still not completed. For the first five years Bill, Clarita and Bill Jr. were the only staff. Bill Jr. eventually left, having lost interest in snakes, but not before he had been bitten four times by venomous snakes. Haast constantly improved the Serpentarium. By 1965 the Serpentarium housed more than 500 snakes in 400 cages and three pits in the courtyard. Haast was extracting venom 70 to 100 times a day from some 60 species of venomous snakes, usually in front of an audience of paying customers. He would free the snakes on a table in front of him, then catch the snakes bare-handed, and force them to eject their venom into glass vials with a rubber membrane stretched across the top.
Soon after opening the Serpentarium Bill Haast began experimenting with building up an acquired immunity to the venom of King, Indian and Cape cobras by injecting himself with gradually increasing quantities of venom he had extracted from his snakes, a practice called mithridatism. In 1954 Haast was bitten by a common, or blue, krait. He at first hoped that his immunization to cobra venom would protect him from the krait venom, and he continued with his regular activities for several hours. However, the venom eventually did affect him, and he was taken to a hospital where it took him several days to recover. A krait antivenin was shipped from India, but when it arrived after a 48-hour flight, Haast refused to take it.
Haast received his first cobra bite less than a year after he started his immunization program. During the 1950s he was bitten by cobras about twenty times. His first King cobra bite was in 1962. Haast has also been bitten by a green mamba. On several occasions Haast has donated his blood to be used in treating snake-bite victims when a suitable antivenin was not available.
In 1949 Haast began supplying venom to a medical researcher at the University of Miami for experiments in the treatment of polio. The experiments gave encouraging results, but were still in preliminary clinical trials when the Salk polio vaccine was released in 1955.Haast's hands have suffered venom-caused tissue damage, culminating in the loss of a finger following a bite from a Malayan pit viper in 2003. As a result of the damage, Haast no longer attempts to handle venomous snakes. As of 2008 he continues to have his wife inject him with small amounts of snake venom.
Poisonous Snake Pioneer Receives Key To Miami
BILL HAAST, 97, center, receives a helmet from the Venom 1 unit of the Miami Dade Fire and Rescue from left; Al Cruz, Ray Barreto and Ernie Jillson, Thursday in Punta Gorda. The poisonous snake anti-venon pioneer was recognized by the deparment for his years of lifesaving work.
By Kate Spinner
N.Y. TIMES REGIONAL MEDIA GROUP
Published: Saturday, July 12, 2008 at 9:13 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 12, 2008 at 9:16 a.m.
PUNTA GORDA | Bill Haast's 97-year-old fingers, withered by scores of snake bites, are too weak to handle cobras and pit vipers anymore.
But he still wakes up each morning to turn snake venom from across the globe into freeze-dried powder for medical laboratories.
Those same hands that for decades eased venom from the world's most poisonous snakes held the key to the city of Miami on Thursday.
The honor, bestowed by Miami's mayor, was delivered to Haast at his home east of Punta Gorda by members of the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Venom Response Unit.
With 43 types of antivenin, a diverse enough supply to treat 90 percent of all bites, the unit's antivenin bank supplies the U.S. military and hospitals around the nation — sometimes the world.
'Our unit wouldn't be around if it wasn't for him; he's the inspiration,' said Al Cruz, the unit's founder, standing beneath the tall branches of a live oak that Haast had allowed to grow through his screened pool patio. 'We're the only fire-based response team in the world.'
The emergency services unit celebrated its 10th year recently at the Metro Zoo in Miami. Haast could not make the ceremony, so part of the ceremony came to him.
Haast maintained a similar bank in Miami when he ran the Serpentarium theme park, which closed in 1984. He briefly lived in Utah and returned to Florida to live in Charlotte County 18 years ago.
His contribution to antivenin science is unparalleled and earned him recognition throughout his life.
Early in Haast's career, he slogged the wilds of the Everglades collecting cottonmouths and rattlers. When he had enough, he opened the Serpentarium in Miami in 1946.
Soon, his quest for exotic snakes stretched around the world. He made special trips, bringing back such perilous species as cobras and saw-scaled vipers.
'Any time I saw an unusual snake I brought it back,' Haast said, sitting on cushioned patio furniture. Behind him rose an 8-foot concrete cobra statue that once decorated the serpentarium.
Eventually, his collection became one of the most diverse venomous snakes on the planet. Crowds cheered as he collected venom from the snakes in dramatic displays.
Haast routinely injected himself with venom to build up resistance to the ill effects of the inevitable bites. It was an experiment, but having received his first venomous snake bite as a teenager, Haast was used to risks.
'I just have a curious nature,' he said.
Horses had developed resistance to the poisons through the same process, and the blood of those horses was used to create life-saving antivenin.
For Haast, the weekly shots paid off, helping him to survive 172 venomous snake bites. His powerful blood also rescued 21 snake-bite victims.
In his heyday, he was flown around the world to hospitals where people bitten by rare snakes would have died without his blood.
His unique contribution to medicine earned him widespread recognition. In 1964, a book was written about him. He later received commendations from President Gerald Ford and Miami Mayor Stephen Clark.
Still recognized as a top authority on venomous snakes, Haast, who moved his snakes to a lab on his sprawling Charlotte County complex in 1990 (he no longer has snakes there), said he answers questions from callers every day.
Some questions, like the one a decade ago from Cruz, the venom unit founder, mean the difference between life and death.
Cruz called Haast after a man was bitten by a Black Mamba, one of the most poisonous snakes of Africa.
Although Haast did not have antivenin for that snake, he knew a collector (Ray Hunter) who did and who provided the 15 vials of antivenin that saved the victim's life.
It was a close call, one that underscored the county's need for an antivenin bank, Cruz said. For inspiration and advice, he leaned on Haast.
'When he closed his doors there was a lapse and there were some fatalities related to exotic snake bites,' said Chuck Seigert, of the Miami unit.
Miami is a hotbed for venomous snake bites because it is the entry point for almost any exotic snake, whether it is bound for a collector or a zoo in another state.
Since the county revived the antivenin bank in 1998, it has saved 1,000 snake-bite victims, Seigert said.
On Thursday, members of the rescue unit came to shake Haast's hand.
Besides the mayor's key, they gave him a firefighter's helmet bearing the unit's name: Venom 1.
'He's like an icon to people that know him,' Cruz said.
Bill Haast, Once the Main Attraction at the Miami Serpentarium, is Now 95 and Still Studying Snakes Posted on: Thursday, 3 August 2006, 06:00 CDT
By Luisa Yanez
King cobras. Green mambas. Palm vipers. Name a deadly snake and Bill Haast has either tamed it or been bitten by it.
For almost four decades, Haast charmed curious tourists who flocked to his South Dixie Highway attraction, the Miami Serpentarium, to watch his snake show.
Haast's death-defying act didn't disappoint. In his trademark white lab coat, he would approach a venomous reptile, lure it with one hand and grab its head with the other. He would shove the snake's fangs into the top of a vial and watch the venom trickle down.
Jaws dropped. Children shrieked in horrified glee.
"It was the best snake show there ever will be," said George Van Horn, a frequent visitor who now runs a similar attraction in Central Florida.
Haast, the world-renowned "Miami snakeman," is now 95 and living on a sprawling Punta Gorda ranch with his third wife, Nancy -- and 400 snakes that supply his venom-selling Miami Serpentarium Laboratories.
"I know a lot of people in Miami still remember the Serpentarium and wonder what became of me, that's why I'm talking to you," said Haast, who would only be interviewed by telephone.
"At 95, he doesn't like to do anything that takes time away from his lab work," added his wife.
Haast is still trying to prove a point: He'll go to his grave believing venom can heal.
VENOM 'POSTER BOY'
The medical establishment -- and the Food and Drug Administration -- never bought into Haast's enthusiasm for the lethal snake juice as treatment for multiple sclerosis, lupus, arthritis and Parkinson's disease.
In his case, he claims the venom has helped him live a long and healthy life -- with the exception of his snakebitten hands.
"I could become a poster boy for the benefits of venom," Haast jokes. "If I live to be 100 I'll really make the point."
Every week, Haast still injects his arm with a cocktail of venom from five snakes -- cobras, mambas, kraits, cottonmouths and rattlesnakes.
The injections are a routine he began in 1948 -- the year he opened the Serpentarium -- and continued after he closed it in 1984. Originally, the shots immunized Haast against snake bites, an occupational hazard.
Now, he believes, the long-term benefits of the shots have spared him from many of the maladies of old age. "I feel like a man in his 60s."
But Haast no longer can handle the forked-tongued killers that made him famous. He said his last snakebite, Number 173 suffered in 2003 -- courtesy of a Malaysian pit viper -- was the final blow to his hands, already mangled from years of enduring the nerve- and tissue-destroying poison that snakes spew when biting.
His hands are gnarled and deadened, some fingers hang immobile, some look stunted in growth, and a pinky and index finger have been amputated at the knuckle, photographs taken by his wife reveal.
"I can no longer open my hands wide or make a fist," Haast explained. "I can't complain. My hands served me well."
RESEARCH WAS GOAL
For Haast, the bites, the snakes and the Serpentarium were only a means to an end.
"I always meant for the attraction to support the venom research, but it just kept growing and growing. It became bigger than I expected," he said.
Haast really wanted to find the cure or treatment for polio and feels he came close.
In the late 1940s, it occurred to Haast that the symptoms of polio mirrored the nerve and muscle disruption caused by a cobra bite. He gathered 400 cobras and took his findings to a University of Miami researcher. At the UM, Haast led in the testing of the serum on monkeys. The findings were very encouraging, Haast said. But Jonas Salk produced a polio vaccine in April 1955, ending Haast's first effort to turn venom into a miracle drug.
In the 1970s, along with his friend, respected Miami physician Ben Sheppard, Haast distributed PROven, a venom-based serum. Sheppard gave injections to patients with MS. His clinic became famous and was featured on CBS's 60 Minutes.
But the FDA shut it down and banned the drug, saying PROven had not been properly tested for humans. "Failing at this is one of my biggest regrets," Haast said.
Despite the medical debacles, the Serpentarium continued to flourish. During its heyday, it attracted about 50,000 Florida visitors a year.
The Serpentarium's landmark 35-foot-high, hooded, concrete-and-stucco cobra stuck out its forked tongue at motorists and arriving patrons on South Dixie Highway and Southwest 126th Street.
Inside, the snake shows were pure drama with no frills, no fanfare, no drum roll, no silence please, no ladies and gentleman. Haast's second wife, Clarita, simply narrated, setting the mood for the audience.
Sometimes a snake would upstage Haast, biting him in front of spectators. He suffered 17 bites that nearly killed him, one put him in an iron lung for three days, his system paralyzed. The attackers included cobras, a krait, green mambas, a pygmy rattlesnake, a European asp and a palm viper.
National television shows hosted by Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas and Johnny Carson invited him or featured him during visits to Miami.
In 1965, Cobras in his Garden, a book about Haast's exploits, was published. Today, out of print, it's coveted by collectors and sells on eBay for more than $100, a testament to Haast's popularity.
Television, a book, big crowds, all helped to build up Haast's image and popularity. But Haast had detractors. They considered him a glorified snake-handler, a showman, a medicine man.
"I know some people have said that about Bill, but he is one of the hardest-working, most diligent, focused individuals you'll ever meet," said Van Horn, 62, who worked at the Serpentarium as a young man.
Today, Van Horn owns Reptile World Serpentarium near St. Cloud, a venom business where the public can pay to watch workers extract venom from snakes.
"From the first day I walked into the Miami Serpentarium, I knew that was for me," he said. Ditto for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Lt. Jeffrey Fobb, who frequented shows as a boy. Now 39, he is a member of the rescue department's anti-venin unit that rushes to inject those bitten by a poisonous snake.
"Haast was an iconic figure in the snake world and innovator in the field of venom collecting," said Fobb, who keeps a photo of Haast and a king cobra in his office.
The story of how Haast made his way to Florida has a certain Huck Finn appeal. He was born in 1910 in Paterson, N.J., to German-American parents -- his father was a mechanic, his mom a housewife. Haast caught his first snake at 7; his first serious bite was at 12.
He purchased his first exotic snake, a diamondback rattler, from a catalog. The seller's address: Eureka, Fla. Haast knew he had to head south, to a warmer climate favored by snakes.
At 19, he got a job with a roadside snake attraction. When the show headed to Florida, Haast convinced his parents to let him go. It was 1929. The Depression killed the snake attraction, so Haast went to work for a bootlegger based in the Florida Everglades, until revenue agents busted their still.
Haast eventually returned home, married and enrolled in airplane-mechanic school, but Florida called. He landed a job with Miami-based Pan American Airways. His dream of creating a snake sanctuary grew nearer.
During World War II, he was aboard flights that delivered food and medicine to Africa and Asia. While the rest of the crew was out having fun in the exotic locales, he bought exotic snakes.
How did he get them through Customs? "I would hide them in my tool box," he said.
Haast eventually sold his family home to buy the land on South Dixie Highway where the Serpentarium would rise. Haast and his teenage son, Bill Jr., began constructing snake pits, the beginning of the Serpentarium. Opening day was Jan. 1, 1948.
The attraction prospered until a tragedy in 1977. A 6-year-old boy fell into a crocodile pit and was killed.
Haast still grows somber when retelling the story: It was a Sunday. People were lining up for a show. Suddenly, he heard screaming and ran toward the commotion.
Haast saw that a boy had fallen into the crocodile pit. Haast jumped down into the pit. By then Cookie, the 12-foot, 2,000-pound crocodile, had the boy in its mouth. "I hit him over the head, trying to get him to let go." Others joined Haast. Cookie broke free and took the boy underwater. "I knew it was over then." Haast calls it one of the lowest points in his life. The night of the accident, he took his Luger, walked out to the pit and shot Cookie in the head. It was buried on the grounds. The boy's family never sued, accepting only the maximum insurance payment, Haast said.
But if a life was lost at the Serpentarium, Haast wants it known that transfusions from his immunized blood to snake victims helped save 21 lives. Among them a zoo director from Des Moines, a local construction worker and a Venezuelan father.
By 1984, interest in such roadside attractions like the Serpentarium had waned. Haast finally sold the 5.2-acre lot, now in Pinecrest, for $3.2 million and headed to Utah for more snake research.
Today, a McDonald's and a shopping center sit where the Serpentarium once thrilled. The giant concrete-and-stucco cobra was donated to South Miami Senior High but fell apart during its move to the school.
"I miss the excitement of the Serpentarium," Haast said. "Funny, the very place I wanted to get away from, I now miss. But there is no reason to visit Miami. I've outlived all my friends down there."
Source: The Miami Herald
POISONOUS VENOM MAY BE JUST WHAT DOCTOR ORDERED, SAYS OCTOGENARIAN
By Tom Wells
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PUNTA GORDA, Fla. -- Bill Haast slid back the top to the large metal box and up popped a cobra. The snake spread its hood, weaved back and forth, side to side, then hissed. Haast placed his hand about six inches from its menacing fangs. A few drops of the snake's venom could kill an ordinary human. Or, Haast believes, perhaps save someone. Bill Haast is not an ordinary human. The snake lunged four times. Each time, Haast pulled back his hand, just out of range, just in time. His timing has not always been perfect. At 85, he has been bitten 162 times -- the latest, by a cobra, three months ago -- by snakes with venom poisonous enough to kill an elephant. Twice, Haast almost died. But Haast has been injecting himself with snake venom since 1948. He has built up such powerful antibodies in his system that his blood has been used as a snakebite antidote. He began with tiny amounts of rattlesnake venom and built up the dosage over the years. He injects himself once a week with venom from 32 species. He says he is now immune from snakebites. He also believes the snake venom has kept him healthy and holds the potential to help people with multiple sclerosis and other diseases. Except for rare snakebites, he says, ``I've never been sick a day in my life. I've never been to a doctor. I've never had the flu, not even a cold.'' Neither, he says, has he had arthritis, bursitis or any communicable disease. He has never taken medicine, not even aspirin. He looks like a man in his 60s. He walks with a spring in his step and his back ramrod straight. He spends hours each day at his serpentarium in southwest Florida pulling weeds and planting shrubs in a two-acre plot where he hopes to breed snakes. He puts his hands on the 4-foot wall and vaults over. Is snake venom the secret to health and long life? ``Come back in 15 years when I'm 100, and if I still look like I do today, then I would say `yes,' '' Haast says. He believes venom can be useful against arthritis and other diseases. He produced a drug in the late 1970s that a Miami doctor used at a clinic to treat multiple-sclerosis patients. But the Food and Drug Administration closed down the clinic. The new serpentarium Haast is working on will be his second snake-raising operation in Florida. Just after World War II he opened a serpentarium and tourist attraction south of Miami and ran it for nearly 40 years. Then he lost heart. Already disappointed by the FDA's rejection of what he saw as groundbreaking work in finding a medical use for snake venom, he became disturbed and distraught by the death of a child who fell into a crocodile pit and was attacked. He sold out in 1984 and moved to Utah. In Utah, Haast continued extracting venom for snakebite antitoxin and for research. He found he missed Florida's climate and landscape and returned six years ago. His new serpentarium is along a crushed-rock road not far from Punta Gorda (Wide Spot, in Spanish) in rural southwestern Florida. He no longer does shows for tourists. He has about 400 snakes, extracts their venom daily and sells it to laboratories. A gram of venom from an African tree snake goes for $6,000; sea snake venom $3,000; cottonmouth venom $60. ``We don't need to do this, but there is nothing else to do and I want to make sure researchers get what they need,'' Haast says. The garage behind the new home he and his wife Nancy are building shelters a red Cornice II Rolls-Royce convertible (hers) and a white 1956 Lincoln Continental (his) in showroom condition. Haast was born in 1910 in Paterson, N.J., and caught his first snake when he was 7. When he was 12 a copperhead bite put him in the hospital. He had grabbed the snake by the tail and learned a lesson: wrong end. He came to South Florida in the late 1920s and worked with a man who had a traveling roadside snake show for tourists. The Depression dried up business, so he took to making moonshine out in the Everglades. That gave him an opportunity to catch snakes. During World War II he had a chance to buy more exotic poisonous snakes when he flew with Pan Am crews that delivered food and medicine to Africa and Asia. ``While the rest of the crew was hitting the bars I would be buying snakes,'' he recalls. After the war, Haast was so consumed with his serpentarium project, he says, that it destroyed his first marriage. His son stayed with him to help clear the land. The two lived in a shack, ate from cans and bathed in barrels. Haast opened the serpentarium in 1948, performing with snakes for tourists and selling venom from about 36,000 extractions annually. He was confident that cobra venom held the secret to curing or maybe even preventing disease. His built-up immunity to snake venom certainly saved his own life. In 1954 he was bitten by a blue krait, a snake that comes from Asia. Drop for drop, the krait's venom is many times more poisonous than a cobra's. ``I had never heard of a krait bite victim ever surviving,'' Haast says. ``I felt like the skin had been stripped from my body, like every nerve in my teeth was exposed, like my hair was being ripped out of my head.'' Haast survived, barely. The snake died 10 days later. The remarkable thing about Haast's encounter with the krait was that, despite his agony, he insisted on making notes. He scribbled that he had a sore throat, sore jaw muscles, blurred vision, chest and stomach spasms. When, three hours after the bite, he could no longer write, he dictated, noting his belief that the venom could not affect every nerve in his body and not have some use in medicine. Indeed, his own blood has such a use. In 1969, he answered an emergency summons from Bob Elgin, director of the Des Moines Zoo in Iowa, who had been bitten by a snake. Blood transfusions from Haast saved him. Haast keeps a letter from Elgin: ``Each morning when the sun comes up, I think of you.'' Haast's chance to test his theory, however, resulted in his run-in with the FDA. An FDA document provides details: In the late 1970s, A Miami physician named Ben Sheppard (now dead), suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Sheppard took PROven, the medication produced by Haast. The doctor was so pleased with the results that he started giving injections to patients with a variety of diseases. Sheppard's clinic became famous, and was featured on the CBS-TV show ``60 Minutes.'' Haast recalls: ``Sheppard eventually was treating six or seven thousand patients. Most of them had MS. People came from all over the United States and even from other countries. The drug really helped them, but the FDA was upset because we hadn't done clinical studies first.'' Just so. The FDA shut down the clinic and banned the drug. It ruled that the drug had not been properly tested or licensed for human use. The Multiple Sclerosis Society still gets so many inquiries about PROven that it felt compelled to publish something on the drug last year. The article notes the drug has been suggested as a treatment for arthritis, lupus, herpes simplex, herpes zoster, muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's disease, myasthenia gravis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Although PROven has been banned by the FDA, a similar mixture known as Horvi MS9 is sold legally in drugstores in Germany, the MS Society said. Time will judge whether Haast was prophetic in his belief that snake venom can be beneficial to mankind. One of Haast's favorite authors is Jules Verne, the 19th-century science-fiction writer ridiculed for his novels about men going to the moon and traveling in submarines. Of his own theories, Haast says, ``We'll see.''
April 1998 An unidentified resident of South Dade, Florida was bitten by a black mamba and taken to the emergency room by ambulance. Bill and Nancy Haast were contacted by the poison control center, but had no black mamba antivenin. They called a private collector (Ray Hunter) who quickly sent nine vials of antivenin. Haast said, "I heard that the man did not receive a very serious bite, that perhaps it was only one fang." The average cost of medical treatment for a venomous snake bite is $11,000....[The Miami Herald, March 14, 1998 from Alan Rigerman]
Doc in Hospital after Bite.
PORT ST. LUCIE — A venomous snake aficionado with the nickname "Cobraman" has been in the intensive care unit in the past after being bit by the slithery reptiles.
That's where 44-year-old Raymond Hunter is today — in critical condition in St. Lucie Medical Center — after an eastern diamondback rattlesnake chomped his right hand.
"He's got two passions in this world, Jesus Christ and venomous snakes," friend Andy James said Monday afternoon.
Hunter has a Web site that shows a variety of photos of himself holding cobras by the tail. It also states he became "a born again child of God in 1985." He had a "bit of a stumble" with the occult and became a member of the Church of Satan, though he is now a Christian.
He's known around St. Lucie County for his hobby of keeping venomous snakes. He sometimes helps animal control officers move a snake from one place to another. Sometimes he sells it; sometimes he gives it to a herpetologist; and sometimes he releases it into the wild in a non-populated area, James said.
Hunter got the eastern diamondback — the deadliest of all rattlers — following a call last week from city animal control officers. Apparently early Saturday morning, the creature bit him on the right hand, near the base of his forefinger and thumb, he told Port St. Lucie police and hospital staff.
He drove himself to St. Lucie Medical Center - and almost made it inside. About 12:30 a.m. Saturday a passerby told a police officer there that a man appeared to be unconscious in the parking lot behind the wheel of his parked vehicle, according to a police report.
"When (Hunter) got there, he already was in bad shape," Hunter's 47-year-old friend Maristela Duffield said.
As he lost consciousness, Hunter, who is licensed to possess venomous snakes, told investigators that his snakes and his residence were secure and that he lived in Midport Place, an apartment/condominium complex on Southeast Royal Green Circle.
"He was unable to provide any further details due to his rapidly declining condition," according to the report.
James said Hunter has a few snakes in his apartment, including cobras.
Al Cruz with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's Venom Response Bureau said his agency delivered 30 vials of anti-venom to the hospital.
He said eastern diamondbacks are the deadliest rattlers in the nation.
"One bite (has powerful enough venom to) kill five people," he said, estimating that 250 to 300 people each year are bitten by venomous snakes in Florida.
Duffield, who also has a license to keep venomous snakes, said Monday that Hunter was having dialysis in the hospital and has a tube in his throat. She said Hunter is fascinated with cobras and they've become a part of his identity.
"I believe it was an accident that maybe he just got too confident," said Duffield, who met Hunter through his sister-in-law, Dr. Roberta Hunter, more than 10 years ago.
She told investigators Hunter "self-immunized himself against many different exotic, poisonous snakes and had been bitten many times in the past," the report states.
Nancy Haast, wife of Bill Haast and administrator at the Miami Serpentarium Laboratories where Hunter worked briefly in the 1990s, said venom from eastern diamondbacks can cause a "massive destruction of blood and tissue and vital organs."
Victims of Venom
There are not many people in the world who know more about snakes and snake venom than Bill Haast does. After all, Haast, director of the Miami Serpentarium, has been bitten by venomous snakes more than 160 times — and lived to tell the tale. But, as he points out, those bites occurred over the course of many years and more than 3 million handlings of snakes. When you spend your days around as many as 20,000 snakes, as Haast does, you’re bound to end up on the wrong side of a fang every now and then.
Haast, featured in the NATURE program Victims of Venom, has spent more than 50 years working with venomous snakes. Like many people, he became fascinated with snakes as a child. Unlike most, however, his fascination continued into adulthood, and, in his travels around the world as an airline flight engineer, he was able to pick up and bring home many snakes.
At the Serpentarium, Haast “milks” his snakes by forcing the reptiles to release their venom into a beaker. Then he sells the poisonous liquid both to medical researchers and to the pharmaceutical companies that make antivenin, the antidote for snake bites. To produce antivenin, scientists inject horses with small, non-lethal doses of venom. Over time, the horses naturally build up antibodies specifically designed to neutralize the injected venom. Eventually, samples of the horse’s blood are collected, and the antibodies within are extracted and processed into commercial formulations of antivenin. Some antivenins will work against venom from several species of snake; others are specific to a single type.
Haast might consider his snakebites to be all in a day’s work, but most people are a bit more traumatized by such an event. Venomous snakes can be found in nearly every state in the nation, and about 8,000 people suffer bites every year. While a snakebite can certainly be a scary event, not all are life-threatening. Different species of snakes carry different types of venom, with varying degrees of toxicity, and larger, older snakes typically pack more wallop into a bite than their smaller brethren.
However, young snakes, born primed with venom, tend to be less discriminating and more aggressive than adults. Nine to 15 people do die of snake bites every year, so experts at the American Red Cross advise treating every snake bite as a medical emergency: bite victims should wash the bite with soap and water, immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart, and get medical help.
One of Haast’s scariest bites occurred in 1990, when he was bitten by a very dangerous species, the saw-scaled viper, while harvesting its venom. “Their venom completely prevents the clotting of blood,” says Haast. “It’s even worse than the disease hemophilia. But there is very little pain to make you think anything’s wrong. Some people who have been bitten by this species are released from the hospital, thinking they are fine, then they go home and die of internal bleeding a week later.”
When, the next day, Haast noticed his own bite was still bleeding, he began seeking the best possible treatment. A fellow snake expert, Dr. Sherman Minton, told him he needed a rare type of antivenin that was available only in Iran. “As you can imagine, that wasn’t easy to do,” says Haast. He spent nine days in a hospital, being very careful not to bump against anything lest he start bleeding, waiting for the crucial antivenin to arrive. A courier finally managed to smuggle it out of Iran and deliver it to Florida just in time.
The saw-scaled viper carries a type of venom known as hemotoxin, a venom that attacks the circulatory system and causes blood to clot severely or else to stop clotting entirely, either of which can be fatal. Other venoms, such as those of the deadly Asian cobras and kraits, are neurotoxins, which affect the nervous system, causing paralysis and sometimes respiratory arrest. Myotoxins, found mostly in Australian sea snakes, affect the muscles.
Whatever the mechanism, the purpose of the venom is usually to immobilize the victim and start the process of digestion, much as human saliva does. In general, neurotoxins act more rapidly than hemotoxins and may be more serious.
Preventing venom use in horses 'difficult'
By MATT HEGARTY July 6, 2007
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Facts about cobra venom that many people in horse racing probably do not know: It's easy for a veterinarian to obtain. It's legal to possess. There is very little hope of devising a test to detect its administration any time soon.
Cobra venom is a powerful neurotoxin that acts as a painkiller when administered in small quantities. Although its use with horses has been the subject of backstretch speculation for years, the topic is now being more widely discussed because of the alleged discovery of the substance in the barn of Patrick Biancone, the Kentucky-based trainer, after a search at Keeneland Racecourse two weeks ago.
The use of a highly toxic substance in order to win a horse race may seem paradoxical, but the chemical structure of cobra venom makes it an effective painkiller when administered under the skin in very small quantities. By deadening the nerves that lead from the source of pain to the brain, cobra venom can allow a horse to ignore physical problems and run through them, officials say. It is believed to be effective only when administered within four hours of a race.
Although little evidence has emerged that the substance is in widespread use, racing officials said this week that there is also little evidence to dispute the likelihood that cobra venom is being abused. In fact, a trainer or veterinarian who uses cobra venom is almost certainly aware that the racing industry has no means to detect it. And although only one company in the United States is widely known to sell the substance - Miami Serpentarium Laboratories in Florida - veterinarians can legally purchase cobra venom simply by having their license validated.
More revelations may be on the way. Just one month before the search of Biancone's barn, two harness trainers, William Barrack, 68, and his son, Keith Barrack, 42, entered guilty pleas in a case in which they were accused of administering cobra venom to a Standardbred horse before a race at Saratoga Raceway in New York last October. The guilty pleas are believed to be the first involving the use of cobra venom in horse racing and were obtained after law-enforcement officials gathered evidence through wiretaps. According to Saratoga County's district attorney, James Murphy, the wiretaps revealed that the Barracks were trafficking cobra venom to people in New York and beyond.
The possession of cobra venom is not a crime, although every major racing jurisdiction has banned its use. Cobra venom is not classified as a controlled substance by the Food and Drug Administration, and there are no laws that would prohibit someone from using the substance as long as a crime is not committed.
Murphy said the lack of laws about the use of cobra venom complicated the prosecution of the Barracks.
"It was a real problem initially, because you couldn't prosecute it under existing public health laws," Murphy said. "Possession is not a crime. But once you administer it to a racehorse, then you can use interfering with a domestic animal or race-fixing or those laws. And that's what we did."
Racing laboratories do not have a test for cobra venom, in part because only an extremely small dose is required, according to Dr. Scot Waterman, the executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an industry-funded group that issues recommendations on drug regulations and sponsors research into drug-related issues.
Researchers can easily obtain snake venom from Miami Serpentarium Laboratories, which has been selling venom since 1947. Its founder, William Haast, is considered a pioneer in the field, and from 1947 until 1985, the laboratory doubled as a tourist attraction. Visitors could watch as Haast milked venomous snakes by forcing open their jaws and getting the snakes to strike a thin membrane covering a test tube.
Nancy Haast, the administrator of the laboratory, said that the company sells venom only to researchers, universities, and veterinarians. The venom has been used to research everything from a polio cure to cancer treatment, and anti-venom snakebite serums can be produced only from a sample of the venom itself. The venom is sold by the milligram, and veterinarians need only to provide a license, which the company checks to see it is valid.
"Our policy is that we don't sell to anyone off the street," Haast said. "We could. I don't think there are any laws. It's such a specialty biochemical field."
Cobra venom appears to be distinct among snake venoms. Most other snake venoms are not neurotoxins, but rather poisons that affect the cardiovascular system or the localized area of the bite. The Miami serpentarium sells cobra venom for approximately $60 a milligram, Haast said. Since the exact dosage for a horse is unclear, it is uncertain how much a specific cobra venom shot would cost.
"We don't know dosages, we don't know any of that stuff, and we tell anyone who buys it, this is not a pharmaceutical product," Haast said. "This is not sterile. This is not to be used as medicine. We sell venom for research only, and we are very careful to make that very clear."
Murphy, the Saratoga district attorney, said the wiretaps in the case indicated that the Barracks received their venom from a source in Florida. Murphy said, however, that the exact source was never determined. Haast said she believed that independent producers of venom are probably common in Florida, given its climate, which is conducive to raising reptiles. Haast said that although the laboratory obtains most of its venoms from snakes that are on site, "we have suppliers that are literally around the world."
Marketed cobra venom typically comes in a crystallized form. The poison is converted into an injectable by mixing a small sample in a saline solution. But once the mix is made, the potency of the venom quickly degrades. …….
Nancy Haast, whose 96-year-old husband, William, was an original proponent of the positive health effects of snake venom and the founder of the Miami Serpentarium, said venom providers sell the toxin only to veterinarians, university research centers and pharmaceutical companies.
George Van Horn, owner of Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Clouds, explained that cobra venom is considered a "nerve blocker" that "stops pain."
This is REALLY old:
Florida Non Profit Corporation
THE VENOM RESEARCH INSTITUTE, INC.
Document Number 712374
FEI/EIN Number 000000000
Date Filed 03/07/1967
Last Event DISSOLVED BY PROCLAMATION
Event Date Filed 07/02/1973
Event Effective Date NONE
12655 SOUTH DIXIE HIGHWAY
MIAMI FLA 33133
12655 SOUTH DIXIE HIGHWAY
MIAMI FLA 33133
Registered Agent Name & Address
12655 S DIXIE HWY
MIAMI FL 33156
Name & Address