Sunday, October 9, 2011

Snake Man

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.”

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