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Australia zoo urges people to catch deadly spiders as antidote runs low

SYDNEY: An Australian zookeeper on Tuesday urged people to catch and donate deadly funnel-web spiders, to help replenish stocks of antidote running low after a spate of spider bites.

The Australian Reptile Park, the country’s sole supplier of funnel-web venom to antidote producers since 1981, relies on the public to hand in spiders that are milked for the venom used to produce an antidote.

The anti-venom program was now at risk after too few spiders were donated last year and a recent heatwave encouraged more spider activity and bites, the park’s general manager, Tim Faulkner, said on Tuesday.

“We rely on community support to keep this program alive,” Faulkner said in a telephone interview.

“We have tried to catch enough spiders ourselves and we just can’t.”

Funnel-web spiders live throughout southeastern Australia, but the only known killer is the Sydney funnel-web spider, found in the Sydney region and as far north as Newcastle and south to Illawarra, the park says on its website.

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“The large fangs and acidic venom make the bite very painful,” it said, noting that a major bite can cause death within an hour if left untreated.

After milking the spiders, the park delivers the venom to a division of the blood plasma and vaccine maker CSL Ltd, which converts it into the life-saving antidote.

Australia has had two funnel-web spider attacks in two weeks, media have said, one of them involving a woman bitten by a spider while she was asleep.

Despite the terrifying reputation of Australian wildlife, nobody has died from the bite of a funnel-web spider since the anti-venom program began in 1981.

Catching venomous spiders is safe, as long precautions are followed, Faulkner said.

“With an appropriate jar and a wooden spoon, you can flick the spider into the jar so easily,” he said.

“We’ve been doing this for 35 years and no one’s been hurt.”



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