Save the (10-foot-long, venomous) snakes!

BBC discusses the challenges faced by Rodrigo Souza, a man who’s dedicated himself to saving an endangered species – the lethal, heat-seeking venomous snake called the Atlantic bushmaster:

He’s been compared by the Brazilian media to Grizzly Man, the American environmentalist who lived among the grizzly bears of Alaska until one of them killed him. Grizzly Man’s life and death was the subject of a documentary by the German film-maker Werner Herzog. But Souza resents the comparisons: “I’m under no illusions about my snakes,” he says. “They have no idea who I am and I know they would not hesitate to kill me.”

I admit to feeling absolutely terrified when he invites me into the sanctuary to watch him casually lifting up a 2m-long snake with an instrument resembling a giant metal tuning fork. Before handling them he zips into an insulated bodysuit that stops him from giving off too much heat. Meanwhile I’m standing a safe distance away – trembling with fear – in shorts and a T-shirt.

The bushmaster has an almost mythological status amongst the indigenous people of the rainforest. Because of its attraction to heat they called it the “fire extinguisher” and have warned Souza never to sit near an open fire in bushmaster territory – because the snakes can leap a distance of several metres towards a heat source and at very high speed. He was once called to a road traffic accident where a bushmaster snake had attacked the headlamp of a passing motorbike.

Rodrigo Souza is the first and probably only person ever to successfully breed the Atlantic bushmaster in captivity. He milks his snakes for venom which he then uses to make an antidote for snake-bite victims. The Bushmaster venom also contains unique medical properties of interest to cancer researchers.