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What It Takes

The Snake Milk King

Enter the Kentucky Reptile Zoo—one of the largest collections of venomous reptiles in the world—and meet Jim Harrison, the man that spent his 42-year career milking King Cobras for anti-venom and saving lives across the globe. He’s a former cop, bounty hunter, and professional kickboxer - but for decades now his main focus has been extracting venom from snakes, or “snake milking.” He and his wife, Kristen Wiley, run the Kentucky Reptile Zoo--one of only a handful of facilities worldwide that harvest snake venom. It’s a critical component of making anti-venom, the antidote necessary when people around the world are bitten by venomous snakes. That desire to help save lives is what drives Jim every day as he risks his own life to handle and milk cobras, pythons, and other dangerous snakes.

In this video, we interviewed Jim Harrison and Kristen Wiley at their home in Slade, Kentucky. We take a look at the mental and physical preparation that goes into working such a dangerous job, the facility where they house thousands of snakes, and the logistics of milking snakes and producing antivenom. It’s the first episode of Freethink’s new series What it Takes, looking at weird jobs that make an impact and the curiously-inclined people who do them.

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