If like me you’re a fan of snakes, or you just love being up-close and personal with some of the World’s most poisonous animals, then you must pay a visit to the remarkable Instituto Butantan, a biomedical and zoological centre in São Paulo.
Here’s a bit of history for you:
It was first founded in 1901 in response to an outbreak of Bubonic Plague in nearby Santos in 1898 and today is the largest producer in Latin America of immunobiologicals and biopharmaceuticals. It produces 90% of all vaccines in Brazil against such diseases as rabies, tuberculosis and tetanus and is famously known for its venom farm where researchers milk thousands of snakes in order to create life-saving antivenoms. As well as its laboratories, production centre and specialised library, it also has a breeding centre where animals are specifically bred for research purposes (you can see the monkeys there) and a hospital where treatment is free for poisonous animal bites and stings (although, obviously, this is not open to public viewing).
That’s a brief history, so what can you actually see there?
Well, to see some real-life specimens at the institute visit the Museu Biológico (Biological Museum), home of the resident snakes, scorpions and spiders; some harmless, others deadly. Must sees include the Boas (a personal favourite), the Coral snake (a tiny snake that packs a lethal bite) and the mysterious glow in the dark Scorpions. They really do glow and you can test this yourself with a handy light switch that allows you to change their environment from light to dark as you please.
Check out the Museu Histórico (History Museum) to browse the medical equipment of the past – a far cry from the modern technology of today. My favourite there was an old microscope the same size as your average refrigerator. Imagine the laboratories a few decades ago!
Another favourite is the Museu de Microbiologia (Museum of Microbiology) where you can see teeny tiny organisms under microscopes (far more modern than the ones from the history museum) and read about the World of microbiology, bacteria and other objects, unseen to the eye. For me, this was one of the highlights and I would definitely recommend it.
A lot of information is in English as well as Portuguese. Prices (to date) are: $R6.00 adults, $R2.50 for children over 7 and free for elders and children under 7. Go on a Thursday and you can actually hold a Milk snake, a harmless snake known for its imitation of the toxic Coral snake.
For more information check out the website:
(text in Portuguese although the English is coming soon!)