ALKHOBAR: A face-to-face encounter with an angry elephant, a near-fatal bite from a venomous snake — Dr. Zoltan Takacs’ love of the wild has given this Hungarian scientist more than his fair share of adventure.
Takacs, a leading toxicologist, joined other National Geographic scientists and adventurers on stage at the Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University in Dammam to present his “Deadliest Lifesavers” show, which outlined his work developing new medicines from the venom of some of the world’s most dangerous creatures.
In an exclusive interview with Arab News afterwards, the scientist described the dangers he has faced on his research trips. “When I came face-to-face with an elephant, I was not really far from getting myself killed,” he said.
“I thought to myself, well, Zoltan, maybe you pushed the limit too much this time.
“Then, when I was bitten by a snake and had a bad allergic reaction, I thought, am I going to die this time?”
Takacs said he sometimes regrets the risks he has taken — “but never the whole experience.”
The Hungarian scientist was brought to the Kingdom for the first time by the General Entertainment Authority and Time Entertainment.
Takacs told his audience he was excited to discover Saudi Arabia’s wildlife. “The venom of snakes, scorpions, spiders and many marine creatures remains unexplored by scientists. It is a huge untapped reserve that should be explored for the benefit of Arabia and global medical innovations,” he said.
Takacs praised the people of the Kingdom. “I love their enthusiasm and the professionalism. In my brief visit, I was fortunate enough to work with extremely professional, dedicated, and courteous people,” he said. “I hope I will come back for a joint research projects.”
The scientist said he was looking for Arabian partners, institutions or universities “so that we can discover these hidden gems.”
“For example, Tirofiban, a lifesaving drug used for heart patients, comes from an Arabian snake, Echis carinatus, or “efa.”
“Most of Arabia’s venomous creatures — snakes, scorpions, spiders and many marine creatures — remain unexplored by scientists. It is a huge untapped reserve that should be explored for the benefit of the Kingdom and global medicine.”
The sea anemone and venomous marine snails are also found in Saudi Arabian waters and are a source of drugs in clinical trials for autoimmune diseases.
Takacs was born and raised in Hungary, and gained his PhD in pharmacology from Columbia University, New York. He was a researcher at Yale University and Rockefeller University, then a faculty at the University of Chicago School of Medicine. He now runs a biotech lab to study the use of venoms in medical treatment, but his research often takes him out of the lab and into the wild.
Takacs said his fascination with snakes began when he was a child in Hungary. “I loved the mystery and the beauty of nature and I love animals. “So, this is what I followed — the mystery and beauty.”
As a National Geographic adventurer, Takacs needs to pack any number of gadgets and tools on his research trips. But asked about the one thing he would never leave home without, he said: “Number one is the driving force — passion. Some people would call it craziness, but to do exploration you have to be a little bit on the edge.”
The adventurer has a long-held interest in Middle Eastern and Arabic culture. “As a child in eastern Europe, my parents would tell me and my siblings tales from the ancient Middle Eastern culture every night.
“To me, the Middle East is the definition of beauty and mystery.”
Takacs first visited the Middle East about 20 years ago, and his visit to the Kingdom has reinforced his fascination. “Everything here is magical — the nature, food, spices, the people. I love it.”
Renowned adventurer tells Arab News of his quest to discover Saudi wildlife
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