The secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius) is a very large terrestrial bird of prey. I was fortunate to spot it in East Africa, where it is usually found in the open grasslands and Savannah. Africans call it the Devil’s Horse and it is the national emblem of Sudan as well as a prominent feature on the Coat of arms of South Africa. Thanks to lightning-quick aerial kicks and stomps forceful enough to shatter bone, the secretarybird is a master at immobilizing dangerous prey. A much more formidable hunter than its crane-like appearance would suggest, it is even capable of vanquishing the deadly black mamba, the fastest terrestrial snake in the world. But this skill makes the bird a  popular pet for humans, who rob nests and raise young as Protection from snakes. Meanwhile, prey is becoming harder and harder to find due to habitat degradation. So, only a 100,000 of these bird now survive in the wild.

The treatment is called Fav-Afrique. It’s the only anti-venom approved to neutralize the bites of 10 deadly African snakes, like spitting cobras, carpet vipers and black mambas. And the world’s stockpiles of it are dwindling, Doctors Without Borders said Tuesday. The last batch expires next June.

“I think this is really a health crisis,” says Dr. Gabriel Alcoba, the snakebite medical adviser for Doctors Without Borders. “We’re talking about more than 30,000 deaths per year. This is an epidemic. This is comparable to many other diseases.”

The World Is Running Out Of A Critical Snakebite Antidote

Photo: Balint Porneczi/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Caption: Black mambas are one of the fastest snakes in the world and grow up to 14 feet long. But their venom is no match for the antidote Fav-Afrique.