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Captive Care for Vipers Available in South Africa

Vipers as a group are the most commonly kept and most sought after captive venomous snakes in the world. Below are some of the most popular vipers available in South Africa.



Copperheads are small North American pit vipers reaching an adult length of around 90cm. These are readily available and are reasonable priced. They can be kept in much the same way as North American Rat Snakes or Corn Snakes. Copperheads will feed on a diet of pre-killed mice throughout their lives. Copperhead venom is relatively mild and a bite can cause swelling, pain and blood clotting difficulties. Do not take a bite from a Copperhead as a joke as keepers have lost fingers from these snakes and in the USA antivenom has been required to treat copperhead bites.

White Lipped Tree Viper

White Lipped Tree Vipers are arboreal pit vipers from South East Asia. There are plenty of these vipers in South Africa and babies can be found at  reptile expos, websites and sometimes in pet shops. These vipers can be kept in tall cages with plenty of branches to perch on and fake plants to hide amongst. Heat the cage to 30 degrees Celsius using an infrared heat lamp. Spray the cage with water twice daily to provide drinking water and to increase humidity. White Lipped Tree Viper babies will usually only accept geckos as food. Adult White Lipped Tree Vipers will eat mice in captivity. The venom of this snake can cause serious problems with blood clotting and tissue necrosis. Bites are very painful and result in swelling of the area that was bitten. If you are bitten by your White Lipped Tree Viper seek medical attention immediately.

West African Bush Viper

West African Bush Vipers are very similar to White Lipped Tree Vipers and require very similar care. Maintain humidity levels and keep your Bush Vipers hydrated by spraying the cage with water once or twice a day. Feed adults on mice once every three weeks. Neonates are tiny and will eat geckos, frogs and chopped up pinkies. The venom of this snake affects your bloods ability to clot and a bite can result in death from internal bleeding. Most Bush Vipers are wild caught  so choose your viper carefully or buy a captive bred individual. Wild caught adult females are often gravid and you may end up with more vipers than you bargained for.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

A large viper growing over a meter or more in length. Bad tempered and has a very potent venom that can cause death in humans. Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are readily available. Albinos of this rattlesnake species are bred in captivity. Keep in a warm dry enclosure and feed on a diet of mice and rats. This viper is only suitable for experienced viper keepers . Despite the fact that a bite from a Western Diamondback Rattlesnake has serious medical implications ( the venom rots tissue and a bad bite looks horrific)  they are popular vipers with snake keepers. Untreated bites can result in death and antivenom for this viper is not available in South Africa.

Sahara Horned Viper

A small 45cm -60cm long side winding viper from North Africa. This viper burrows under the sand to stay hiden when ambushing prey.Keep these small vipers in a warm secure cage with a substrate of fine sand. Baby Horned Vipers will eat lizards or small pinkie mice. Adult Horned Vipers will eat small mice. These vipers are readily available but be careful as bites are painful and can result in loss of a finger.