Species group: Rattlesnakes and Other Vipers
Scientific name: Bitis rhinoceros
The striking, highly-variable colors and massive girth of the West African Gaboon Viper have long rendered it a favorite zoo animal. Armed with the snake-world’s longest fangs and huge stores of venom, this magnificent creature should not be kept in private collections.
The West African Gaboon Viper ranges from Guinea Bissau southeast to Liberia and Togo, where it inhabits humid, brushy savannas and wet forests.
Appearance / Health:
The background color is an intricate and variable pattern of many pastel shades of brown, beige, yellow, cream, black and purple. The broad head is flat and topped with 2 prominent “horns” (rostral scales).
The West African Gaboon Viper may attain 6 feet in length, although 3-4 feet is average. It is stoutly-built and may top 20 pounds in weight.
Zoo specimens have reached age 20+, but are considered prone to stress-related disorders.
Behavior / temperament:
West African Gaboon Vipers are inactive in captivity, but strike with amazing speed. Their bulk renders handling with snake hooks especially difficult and dangerous.
Venomous snake species are not suitable as pets in private collections. It is impossible for a private snake owner to adequately prepare for or treat a venomous snakebite, or, prior to a bite, to arrange for treatment in a hospital.
West African Gaboon Vipers are ambush predators, and take quite large and formidable prey, including brush-tailed porcupines and royal antelopes exceeding 15 pounds in weight. Zoo animals are fed rats and mice.
The young, 15-60 in number, are born alive after a gestation period of approximately 170 days.
Written by Frank Indiviglio