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What is the Cape Fear Serpentarium?

Ben Steelman

Not the place to go if you’re Indiana Jones, the Cape Fear Serpentarium at 20 Orange St., Wilmington [Map this], houses more than 100 species of snakes and reptiles.

Opened in 2002, the privately-owned menagerie is the brainchild of Wilmington native Dean Ripa. A self-trained authority who’s published several scholarly monographs, Ripa caught his first snake when he was 4, milked his first rattlesnake when he was 12, survived multiple snakebitres and served as a technical adviser to “Naked Lunch” author William S. Burroughs.

The 6.300-square-foot Serpentarium reflects his enthusiasm. Housed in relatively spacious glass cases, under dim light, are such exotic species as the bushmaster (Ripa discovered they constitute more than one species), Gaboon viper, king cobra, fer-de-lance viper, black mamba, red-headed krait and a 23-foot-long python. Closer to home, the Serpentarium displays all the poisonous snakes native to North Carolina, including the copperhead, cottonmouth and coral snake.

Also on hand are a water monitor (formerly known as a Komodo dragon), a Nile crocodile and a bearded lizard. “Look but don’t touch,” the signs caution.

If snakes aren’t your cup of tea, the Serpentarium is also home to a small flock of tropical parrots, including a couple of blue macaws.

The Serpentarium plays host to periodic education programs and summer camps for children. A lobby display covers the history of the building, which was the former home of the Wilmington Iron Works and a Victorian “naval stores” (tar, pitch and turpentine) firm. The gift shop offers a kid-friendly array of toys and stuffed animals.

The Serpentarium is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and Sunday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. (A good time to come is around 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; that’s when they feed the snakes.) It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, but plans call for it to be open 7 days a week during tourist season. Admission is $8, with children aged 2 and younger admitted free. (Leave a little tip money for the staff, who are mostly volunteers.)

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2 Responses to “ What is the Cape Fear Serpentarium?”

  1. On May 5, 2011 at 5:23 pm charles wrote:

    the link includes index2.html at the end and that does link to the site. it works just fine as capefearserpentarium.com

  2. On May 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm Jim Ware wrote:

    Thanks, Charles. That link is fixed.

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