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Kentucky Reptile Zoo Keeps the Venom Coming

Photo of an Iguana
Photo of an Iguana

June and July often mean an increase in summertime visitors to lots of Kentucky attractions. That’s the expectation at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo near Slade Kentucky.

In addition to educating thousands of people a year about a wide variety of snakes and their environment, venom production and extraction are part of the Reptile Zoo’s mission. Co-Director Kristen Wiley said there’s currently a therapeutic project with South American rattlesnakes.

“It’s a company in Europe who is working on a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer. They’re actually in phase one trials right now and one of the things I have to do today is take some venom to FedEx for them,” said Wiley.

Wiley said snake venom played a key role in determining the blood clotting cascade in humans. And that can help in making healthcare decisions when issues arise.

The Kentucky Reptile Zoo came to be in the Red River Gorge area more than 30 years ago. Today it’s home to more than 1,500 snakes. Visitors can view many, but many more are a part of the venom production program. Kristen Wiley said there’s been a slow growth process in zoo facilities over the last 20 years.

“We are hoping to build a better more modern facility within the next five years or at least kind of be on our way with that construction. So, we’re just kind of in the planning phases of that right now," Wiley said.

Wiley noted the separation of snakes in different buildings would continue to prevent the spread of disease. Wiley added the Kentucky Reptile Zoo is the only non-profit venom production site in the U.S. and maybe the world.

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