Grab it by the tail!

A wood in the Alps, in early spring, soon after the Italy's unification.
A barefoot child is climbing a tree, hunting for nests. But, what a surprise!, someone else sniffed out the nest before him: three vipers devoured the eggs and rolled themselves well-hidden.
The brat don’t even flinch. Instinctively and resolutely he grabs one of the vipers by the head and opens its jaws to watch the teeth. Then, with the same confidence, he goes on to look at the other two.
That’s the dazzling beginning of the career of Amedeo Ruscetta, the biggest viper hunter in the Alps, a career meant to last for more than eighty years.
The kid grows up, becomes a priest, then the vicar of the little village of Croveo, in Valle d’Ossola, in the north of Piedmont. In these places so close to the Swiss border, the main source of income has always been contraband.
However, Ossola and its valleys are also full of reptiles and don Ruscetta offers an honest alternative for his fellow villagers. The Institute of Serotherapy of Milan buys vipers to produce anti-viper bite serum: why not engage in capture?
With the purpose of selecting new viper hunters, don Ruscetta gathers boys and girls in the church square, after the service. He lets the vipers crawl out of his sack and looks on. The ones who don’t run away are conscripted and trained.
The vicar handles the vipers very confidently, he lets them crawl up his sleeve. And they don’t bite him and don’t get scared. He says they're fragile and touchy, so you have to handle them gently. The best way to catch them is stopping them by the tail and then grabbing them resolutely by the scruff.
You can see him in action in a wonderful vintage footage of Istituto Luce.
Don Ruscetta kept training his young viper hunters until 1961, year of his death.
In the church square, where he gave “lectures”, today there is his statue, with a viper in his hand, of course.
He wrote the epitaph for himself (“to prevent others doing badly”):
“Priest Amedeo Ruscetta – viper hunter, vicar of Croveo – industrious loyal humorous hospitable: pleasant master of faith and science - through nature – He led to God the people and the faithful – His luminous soul – wanted to leave returning to his kingdom”

Find out more:
Il viperaio va in pensione (La Stampa, 06/05/2016)