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A complete guide to keeping Gaboon Vipers

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A complete guide to keeping Gaboon Vipers



Venomous snakes, whilst fascinating, are inherently dangerous. An envenomation could result in loss of life or limb and I do not wish to encourage anyone to attempt to keep them without experience with keeping aggressive non-venomous species. Included is a link with images of snakebite in order to demonstrate the seriousness of keeping venomous snakes. Read, learn and ask before attempting to keep an animal that could potentially disfigure or kill you.


The Gaboon Viper (Bitis gabonica/Bitis rhinocerous)

Natural history

The Gaboon Viper is one of the largest venomous snakes found in Africa, growing to a length of up to 7 feet, but ordinarily ranges between 4 and 5 feet. They are very attractive snakes, with a wide variety of pastel colours all along the body. The base colour is usually a reddish brown or a faded grey-green, decorated with symmetrical rhomboid, triangular and hour glass shaped pattern, with some linear shapes. The head is the base colour with a brown line in the centre, making the head resemble a leaf. This gaudy colouration blends in extremely well on the forest floor.

Bitis gabonica is found in the Congo, Sudan, Uganda, Gabon, Angola, Tanganyika, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa.

Bitis rhinocerous is found in west Africa from Togo to Guinea.

Immobile among the leaf litter or under bushes, some Gaboons lie in ambush for weeks waiting for suitable prey, which include birds, small mammals and amphibians. The lightning strike is made with no warning, and in any direction except along its spine, and the prey succumbs to the venom and organ injury because of the fangs, which can grow up to 2 inches long in adults.

During late summer, every two or three years, females give birth to 10 - 40 live young





Gaboon Vipers aren't too affected by enclosure size, but generally do best on their own. Even though they can be hardy and long lived species, Gaboon Vipers can suffer from stress very quickly if the correct cage environments are not met. I prefer housing them in a very natural set up, allowing it to use its excellent camouflage to its full extent. If the animal gets to stressed, they will often regurgitate their food or refuse feeding completely. The natural environment seems to lessen the stress on the animal. When aggravated, Gaboon Vipers will not stop its loud hissing and keep its body inflated for a long time. While there is a firm belief that Gaboons are docile, I have found that is not always the case. Some specimens bite readily.

Having enough logs and other hiding places in the cage is essential to the snake's survival. A water bowl is provided, although Gaboons rarely drink out of it unless placed in the water manually. Babies are housed in racks with a bedding of peat moss.



A settled Gaboon Viper is a very good feeder, and a pleasure to watch doing so. Gaboons do not move much, so the typical weekly feedings will just result in a fat snake. Babies are fed every two weeks, juveniles are fed once a month and adults are fed once every two months. It can be fed any suitably sized mammals, and is best done at dusk. I usually spray the cage right before feeding them.



Gaboons love water. I like using a daily misting as well as a weekly "dunk" in the water bowl. The misting keeps the humidity high and makes shedding a little easier for the snake. This helps because pinning large Gaboons can be very detrimental to your health.



Gaboons do not need a high ambient temperature. Anything between 70 and 80 degrees is more than sufficient. I prefer using heat lamps as opposed to heat pads for Gaboons.





Breeding Gaboons can be tricky. I have found that letting males perform ritual combat makes the process a little easier. Mating can take place any time of the year, but usually happens after dusk. During the ritual combat I generally spray the inside of the cage to simulate rain, and have not yet had trouble getting them to copulate. Gestation is long, and can be between 7 months and one year. Raising the babies is pretty straight forward.


Venom and envenomation

Whilst Gaboons are generally reluctant to bite, which prompts many keepers to free handle them, this action is for the unintelligent. Gaboons carry a massive amount of cytotoxins and cardiotoxins that are injected deep into the tissue. Without proper treatment, death can occur within 30 minutes. Large volumes of SAIMR antivenom will be needed in the event of a bite.



Small to sub adult Gaboons can be handled using the double hook method. Large Gaboons are difficult to handle due to their large bulk. Hooking and tailing is usually employed, but this action is not without risk. Gaboons are capable of performing incredible acrobatics in an attempt to bite. Pinning should be avoided. Large Gaboons are powerful animals, and if it comes down to a wrestling match, you will lose.



Gaboons are fulfilling animals to keep, and make an exceptionally decorative part of any collection. They are hardy, but not as easy to keep as most people are led to believe. But with proper care and attention, your pet rock will be with you for a long time

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