Bill Haast, a renowned snake handler and scientist, led an extraordinary life dedicated to studying and working with poisonous snakes. He became famous for his fearless approach and was bitten by venomous snakes over 170 times. Despite the risks, Haast’s passion for snakes and their venom led to significant contributions in the field of snakebite treatment and research.
Who is Bill Haast?
Born on December 30, 1910, in Paterson, New Jersey, Haast developed an early fascination with snakes. His first significant snakebite occurred at age 12. A timber rattlesnake bit him while at a Boy Scout camp. This experience ignited his curiosity and passion for these reptiles. Haast’s snake-handling journey began when he joined a roadside snake show in the late 1920s. He later went on to work as a flight engineer with Pan American World Airways, which allowed him to travel the world and collect various snake species.
In 1947, Haast fulfilled his dream of opening the Miami Serpentarium. This serpentarium quickly gained popularity, attracting thousands of tourists each year. Inside, Haast would demonstrate his expertise by milking venom from snakes. This venom was used for research purposes but also for the production of antivenom to treat snakebite victims.
Haast’s unique approach to handling snakes involved injecting himself daily with small amounts of venom from various snake species. This self-immunization process aimed to build up his immunity and protect him from the potentially lethal effects of snakebites. While he suspected that these injections contributed to his remarkably good health, Haast refrained from making definitive claims until he reached the age of 100.
Throughout his career, Haast made significant contributions to the field of snakebite treatment. Alongside a Miami doctor, he treated over 6,000 individuals with a snake-venom serum that showed promise in addressing conditions like multiple sclerosis and arthritis. The effectiveness of the serum gained attention after a 1979 report on CBS News’ “60 Minutes.” However, the Food and Drug Administration later banned the product due to manufacturing deficiencies identified in Haast’s process. Nevertheless, researchers continue to explore the potential of venom-derived drugs for treating various diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Haast’s dedication to helping others extended beyond his work at the serpentarium. He traveled around the world to donate his antibody-rich blood to snakebite victims, even receiving honorary citizenship in Venezuela for his efforts. In a remarkable turn of events, the White House once facilitated the delivery of a rare serum from Iran to treat Haast himself after he was bitten by a Pakistani pit viper.