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The Man Who Milks Snakes for a Living

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
October 18, 2022 3:02 am

The Man Who Milks Snakes for a Living

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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October 18, 2022 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, at the age of 6, Nathaniel Frank became intrigued with reptiles and dreamt of working with them one day. Today, Nathaniel is the CEO of MToxins Venom Lab. MToxins produces high volumes of snake and scorpion venom for the production of antivenom, which saves lives.

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Here's Nathaniel with the story of how he got involved in his unique career. So I grew up in northeastern Wisconsin, and about six years old, I became just obsessed with reptiles. And that was because a neighbor had given me an old Peterson's field guide.

And I would flip through it and go out and try to find all the animals that were in our region that were in there. And it just started a lifelong passion for these animals. In those field guides as a child, there were pictures of a type of snake called a coral snake that absolutely fascinated me, and I always said one day I'm going to work with them. In about 2011, I started keeping coral snakes, and I was keeping a type of coral snake that was incredibly rare. I was the only one keeping them in the United States at the time, and a scientist from Australia had seen that on Facebook and said, can you provide me some samples of that venom?

It was really learning under fire, which I would never recommend to anyone. But a gentleman who had been producing venom since the 60s kind of took me under his wing and worked with me on safety and what I needed to do to be able to do that. And we did, and it led to a very successful scientific publication.

Then the question was, what else can you provide me? So it turned into providing venom from 100 different species at one time, and it grew very quickly. And that led into providing venom to pharmaceutical companies. And that's now our main source of revenue, providing venoms for Asia, the Middle East, South America, and all of Africa.

The process is really quite simple, and it's been done the same way for a very long time. You take a sterile vessel, you put a membrane over the top that the animal can bite into. And from there, we grab and restrain the animal. Now, a snake is at its most desperate situation when you're grabbing it. Typically, their first instinct is to flee. One of their last instincts is to use their venom. So we try to be gentle, and some of them are intelligent enough to know the process is happening. So a lot of them know what to expect, and we try to condition them by, they give their venom, they get fed right after.

So it's almost like a reward. So they bite naturally into the vessel and release their venom. And from there, it goes into a purification process, and then it's turned into a freeze-dried powder.

And that's how the scientists around the world and the pharmaceutical companies use it. M-Toxins Venom Lab opened in 2011, and in its beginning years, it was very small. Almost no one in the community even knew it was there. But in 2016, M-Toxins became a high-production facility and gained a lot more attention.

It's become an enormous success with the community. We're treated with the utmost level of respect by the city and by its residents. We have a very serious level of preparedness here with the fire department, with the police department, the local hospitals know us. Our state's poison control knows us. Because if you can imagine Wisconsin poison control getting a call that someone's been bitten by a black mamba or a king cobra, the first thing to do is roll your eyes and assume it's not anything like that. So one day, I was extracting from several black mambas, and I rest a finger on their nose.

So I had that animal in my hand. I'm pressing on its nose, and I lifted the animal before I lifted my finger, and I actually lacerated my finger with the snake's fang. So any time that you believe you've been snake-bitten, you know, the first rule is get to the hospital as quickly as possible. And of course, we have the antivenin on hand, but basically, I waited to see because that animal had just released its venom. Did I get any venom in my system? Am I okay? Well, then I started to lose control of my tongue, and my eyelids and eyes were drooping. I was salivating. And so then we got to the hospital. I received four vials of antivenin and went home that evening and had dinner with my family. But that wasn't the first accident he'd had with one of the snakes.

It's a little ironic and actually kind of funny, despite the severity of it. But in 2015, I was extracting venom from a snake from Africa called a stiletto snake. And we were doing these extractions to do a scientific paper that proved that there's no antivenin that can be used to treat that bite. And I had my right hand placed in the wrong place at the wrong time.

And I actually accidentally pushed my finger onto its fang. And we had to take what's called the flight for life, our emergency helicopter, down to a huge hospital in the southern part of the state. And of course, we knew there was nothing that could treat it.

So it was all pain management for 48 hours in ICU. But it still makes me laugh, the irony that we knew we couldn't be treated. And there we are with an envenomation. We have a very strict thing that we actually another venom producer used that we adopted, which is the I'm Safe Pilots Checklist.

So we go through that checklist. But before I walk in that room, I like to remind myself that we don't want it to happen again, which it will. They'll eventually be another bite. It's just the nature of the business.

But to prevent that, to keep my family from having to go through it with me. This hurts a lot of people's feelings, but snakes don't have a part of the brain that shows emotion or connection. Lizards do. They become bonded to their keepers and things like that. But snakes can't do that. It's all about how tolerant is that animal being. Now, there's a lot of YouTube stars right now, people that want to be like Steve Irwin and educate, but they'll take these deadly animals and they'll handle them in a very reckless way. Naturally, it's not a matter of if, but when. They're going to get bitten and it's going to be ugly. One of them I'm extremely close friends with and he has a young daughter.

And every time he would post a video doing something stupid with a dangerous animal, I'd send him a picture of his daughter. Because just because you have antivenom, it doesn't mean you're out of the woods. There can be lots of secondary infection. You know, you could be bitten by one of these snakes and it turns out you had a preexisting condition you never knew about. And the next thing you know, you're on dialysis or you're dead.

It's not worth it. But the general public loves it because they believe they're seeing a bond between an animal and a person. And that's it's not scientifically possible. When you get asked, what do you do for a living? And your answer is extract venom from deadly animals. You get a variety of reactions. A big one is, are you serious? That's one.

And why in the heck would you want to do that job? People are really interested in the back story. Nathaniel allows visitors to come in and see for themselves. We're not like any other zoo. I feel that in our educational center that that sparks a whole different level of interest and investment from the kids that are watching us from behind the glass and stuff. It's just pure awe because these kids are nose to nose with cobras and mambas and rattlesnakes. What we want to see are more people working in conservation, more people studying venom to find more legitimate medicinal uses.

That's kind of our goal. Just in Africa alone, there's hundreds of thousands of bites a year. A large number of the antivenom for Africa is donated. And I've been fortunate enough to see our antivenom save people's lives over there. It's a humbling experience to be a part of and something that we're we're very proud of. It's what keeps us going every day.

I think if six year old me knew that this was the path that I was going to end up on, I don't think I would have believed myself. We just try to approach it with a great deal of humility and always remember the goal is to save people's lives, not to fill our egos or anything like that. It's just all about saving lives. And a great job on that piece by Madison and a special thanks to Nathaniel Frank, CEO of M. Toxins Venom Lab. When he was six years old, he told us he was obsessed with reptiles.

He knew then that his dream would be working with these animals. We learned also snakes don't like being grabbed and also snakes don't have emotion. But I love the incentives that venom for food program and how we ultimately train these snakes to basically do some good.

And in the end, that's what it's all about. Saving lives if you live near snakes or you're in snake country. Anti-venom is at every hospital and it literally saves lives.

The story of Nathaniel Frank, CEO of M. Toxins Venom Lab here on our American stories. Everything is more expensive these days with inflation rising. Medicare beneficiaries living on a fixed income are concerned about increasing costs. Make your Medicare dollars go further by picking the right plan. Start by looking for a plan that gives you more. For example, many Medicare Advantage plans include dental, vision and hearing benefits. While original Medicare doesn't. Learn more about plan costs beyond premiums such as deductibles, co-pays and drug coverage. Find that right plan for you.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2022-12-02 23:47:44 / 2022-12-02 23:52:56 / 5

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