53 year-old Dieter Zorn died from a heart attack on Tuesday evening, just minutes after being bitten by an Aspic viper, during his ‘Reptile Show’ in Faugères, southern France.
He had been touring villages in the Hérault area of France, teaching the public to overcome their fear of snakes and other reptiles.
Zorn was bitten several times by the viper, but was able to put the creature back into a secure container, to prevent it from attacking members of the audience, which included children, according to regional daily Midi Libre.
Emergency services arrived on the scene and administered a blood-thinner to Zorn, but were unable to save him after he went into cardiac arrest.
His colleague Uschi Kallus, who ran the 'Reptile Show' along with Zorn, told The Local he had suffered an "extremely rare allergic reaction" to the bite, and emphasized that Zorn would not have wanted the viper to be blamed for his death.
"His ambition and his objective in life was to help people to conquer their fears about snakes and reptiles," she added, noting that the incident was "exceptionally uncommon."
Zorn was a former hepatologist (liver specialist) according to Midi Libre, and had spent the past three decades touring with his ‘Reptile Show,’ in which audience members, young and old, were invited to handle snakes, crocodiles, scorpions, spiders and other creatures.
His website describes a special performance known as the “Interactive Reptiles Show.”
“The public (under no obligation), can get up close to different inoffensive snakes. Touching and holding, stroking, and carrying these harmless snakes is, for most people, unique and unforgettable. This experience helps us to get over unfounded fears, and eliminate prejudices," it reads.
Another section of the website lists detailed instructions for how to treat a snake bite in an emergency.