Why the Brazilian Navy keeps going to an island filled with deadly snakes
Just 21 miles off the idyllic coast of Brazil sits Ilha da Queimada Grande, also known as “Snake Island.” It’s said that on every two steps of this 110-acre island is a golden lancehead, the deadliest snake in the world. Years of isolation on a bird migration path required that these snakes adapt an extremely quick-acting and lethal venom. With no predators or competition, the snakes have been left to enhance their camouflage, their venom, and their insane jump.
For centuries, humans have tried to go to the island only to die soon thereafter. Everyone, from pirates to adventurers to zoologists, has tried and all have failed — except the Brazilian Navy.
According to local legend, in 1909, a lighthouse keeper and his family were assigned as stewards of this island to warn sailors of its dangers. Shortly after the lighthouse’s construction, the family was killed by the snakes. The lighthouse has since been made automatic and only requires yearly maintenance.
So, each year, the Brazilian Navy must travel to the island to replace the bulb, change the batteries, and watch over the scientists who need to make a serum from the venom. With the dedication and keen skill of the medical staff on board, there have been no deaths from a golden lancehead bite on these expeditions to date.
There are no docks or paths on the island, so Brazilian sailors must first land on the only rocky coastline and hand-carry their gear through unforgiving terrain. Every step they take could alarm a snake that can liquefy their insides in mere seconds. To make matters worse, exotic animal poachers leave traps all across the island since a single golden lancehead scores them $30,000 on the black market.
In 2014, reporters from VICE and researchers from the Buntantan Institute, one of the world’s leaders in anti-venom biopharmaceuticals, were allowed to travel with the Brazilian Navy. Check out the video below:
(VICE | YouTube)