• Emerald Tree Boa
  • Eastern Green Mamba
  • Western Green Mamba

About Us

The Serpentarium is open from 11AM to 5PM on weekdays, 11AM to 6PM Saturdays and Sundays. Hours may vary seasonally, so please phone for confirmation.

The Cape Fear Serpentarium is a unique facility located in the downtown district of historic Wilmington, NC. Founded in 2001 by expert herpetologist Dean Ripa, the Serpentarium is a 10,000 square foot structure which features 54 displays which house over 40 venomous species of snakes, 5 large bays featuring giant constrictors, and three full-fledged interior habitats housing 3 species of crocodile. Other displays are the homes for several large and exotic species of lizards. In all, there up to 150 animals on display at any given time.

Using existing and new construction, this indoor zoo was built upon the original Wilmington Iron Works. Taking over two years to complete, the indoor displays are some of the largest of their kind in the world, painstakingly constructed to allow the animals to experience almost every freedom they would enjoy in their natural habitat. For patrons, this means the experience of encountering these creatures in as close to a natural setting as possible, while maintaining absolute safety.

Thus, spectators may enjoy all manner of rarely observed reptile behavior. Mating, combat and live feedings all compliment the inherent beauty of these powerful species.

The Cape Fear Serpentarium has been featured on Discovery TV, Animal Planet, Attache Magazine, Oxford American Magazine, the Wilmington Star News and many others. Scientists and tourists alike visit from all over the world to view animals that can be seen nowhere else. The Cape Fear Serpentarium is recognized as one of the world's foremost reptile collections.


The Serpentarium features over 80 species of exotic and indigenous reptiles.

Our exhibits include:


• King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah)
• Taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus)
• Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica rhinoceros)
• Fer-de-lance (Bothrops asper)
• Central American Bushmaster (Lachesis stenophrys)
• Blackheaded Bushmaster (Lachesis melanocephala)
• Spitting Cobra (Naja siamensis)
• Spectacled Cobra (Naja naja)
• Forest Cobra (Naja melanoleuca)
• Monocled Cobra (Naja kaouthia)
• Cape Cobra (Naja nivea)
• Water Cobra (Boulenginera annulata)
• Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis)
• Eastern Green Mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps)
• Western Green Mamba (Dendroaspis viridis)
• Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus adamanteus)
• Neotropical Rattlesnake (Crotalus durissus terrificus)
• Mexican West Coast Rattlesnake (Crotalus basilicus)
• Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus)
• Hundred-Pacer (Sharp Nosed Viper) (Deinagkistrodon acutus)
• Eyelash Viper (Bothreichis schlegelli)
• Puff Adder (Bitis arietans)
• And many, many more.


• Emerald Tree Boa (Corallus caninus)
• Burmese Python (Python molorus bivitatus)
• Giant Anaconda (Eunetes murinus)
• Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus)
• Green Tree Python (Morelia viridis)
• Carpet Python (Morelia spilotes)
• And many, many more.


• Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis)
• Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)
• Salt Water Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

Great Lizards:

• Green Iguana (Iguana iguana)
• Argentine Tegu (Tupinambris merianae)
• Blackthroat Monitor (Varanus albigularis)
• Savannah Monitor (Varanus exathematicus)

Dean Ripa

Dean Ripa was born in 1957 in Wilmington, North Carolina. A herpetological-wunderkind, he was already catching dangerously venomous snakes before the age of ten in the swamplands near his home. At age 13 he was seriously bitten, and hospitalized in intensive care for 2 weeks, losing the functional use of his right hand for over two years. Undaunted, he continued, and by age 15 was already keeping some the world’s most dangerous snakes, king cobras, Gaboon vipers, black mambas, and many others, unbeknownst to his parents, in cages hidden in the attic rooms of their spacious mansion-like house. In his early twenties, he left for Africa to capture and export live snakes back to America. As this proved successful, he began traveling the world, becoming what was probably the first international snake hunter for hire. Major zoos, laboratories, and private fanciers were his customers. Long before television snake-wranglers were staging “cobra captures” in front of camera crews, Dean Ripa was prowling the remotest areas of the earth, far from medical help and human settlement, catching deadly creature and bringing them back alive to America in order to study their habits in captivity. His adventures have taken him to five continents and more than 30 countries, and they have sometimes been harrowing. He has been wracked by malaria, schistosomiasis and dysentery, lost in Amazonian jungles, stranded in the New Guinea highlands, and held up at gun point during military coups in West Africa and Suriname. He has survived twelve venomous snakebites to date, including seven by bushmasters, surely the record number of envenomations by this deadly snake on any individual.The literary magazine, Oxford American, ran an award-winning feature on his life’s work. As author William S. Burroughs described him in his book, The Western Lands, “Dean Ripa could have stepped from the pages of a novel by Joseph Conrad.” Dean Ripa is the owner and director of one of the world’s largest snake museums, Cape Fear Serpentarium, where he maintains the largest breeding population of bushmasters on earth.

Dean Ripa was the first herpetologist in the world to watch bushmasters mate, and discovered the unique behavioral usage of the bushmaster's dorsal ridge and rasp-like scales: An adjunct to courtship, the male bushmaster uses the sharp scales to stimulate the female, inverting his body on top of hers and, using fiddling motions, literally "sawing" himself against her. His observations of nesting females confirmed that bushmasters really do brood their eggs until hatching, a rare example of maternal care among venomous snakes. Long before most zoos had learned to keep these difficult animals alive, Dean Ripa reproduced two species of bushmaster for the first time in captivity, the Central American bushmaster, and the Blackheaded Bushmaster. Almost all captive collections of these species in the U.S are related to his stock. He also produced the world's first bushmaster hybrid— "recreating" an extinct ancestor to the existing species, whose ancestors were separated for millions of years by a mountain chain in Central America. Ripa spent years living in the Neotropics studying and collecting bushmasters in their native habitats, and credits his success with breeding them from this experience.

His many field captures include: king cobras, spitting cobras, forest cobras, green mambas, kraits, gaboon and rhinoceros vipers, many lancehead species, three species of bushmasters and dozens of others.

Visitors to his private collection include the Nobel Peace Prize winning President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, film stars Christopher Lloyd, Fred Ward, and herpetologists from all over the world. In addition to his writings on snakes, his literary efforts have also received attention. His essays have appeared in collections by Gary Indiana (novelist and critic for the Village Voice). In 1989 he collaborated with literary legend William S. Burroughs (Naked Lunch) on portions of his last novel, "The Western Lands."

Welcome to an exotic world where legend and myth meet reality

Cape Fear Serpentarium offers a rare look into some of the world's most dangerous, yet beautiful animals. Optimal lighting offers clear views upclose of a large variety of snakes, lizards, and even crocodiles. Descriptive name plates rate the reptiles using a scale with 1 to 5 skulls, where 5 is most dangerous. Meet Sheena, the 250-lb, 20-ft Burmese Python, and watch the world's fastest striker, the Gaboon Viper bite and then hold its prey above the ground with its characteristic majestic stance. After your visit you will never be the same!

  • Tercipelio
  • Iguana
  • Fer de Lance
  • Gaboon Viper
  • Eyelash Viper
  • Bushmaster
  • Western Green Mamba
  • Nile Crocodile
  • Young Mutahead

Latest News

Dean talks about his field trips and expeditions, and some of the reasons why safety is primary.

Recent Projects

Get involved in discussions about current topics related to the serpentarium.

Contact Us

Always feel free to reach out to us about anything. We are always happy to accomodate your questions!