The West African gaboon viper or (Bitis Gabonica) is the largest out of all the old world vipers. There have been individuals found up to 7 feet but an average of 6 feet is more common. They are also one of the most beautiful of all snakes. In the wild their strikingly marked bodies are near impossible to see among the ground and leaf litter. These guys are ambush predators that sit and wait for a meal to come walking through the game trail. They have the largest fangs of any venomous snake in the world. The fangs can grow up to two inches in length. Their natural habitat consists of dense forested areas and humid grassy areas.
The West African gaboon viper inhabits Guinea, The Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana, Cameroon, Benin, Angola, The Congo, and Gabon.
Keeping bitis species can be a very rewarding species to keep as long as every single requirement is met in order to keep them healthy and thriving. Correct temperature and humidity levels MUST be maintained and monitored every day.
They live in tropical forests and do not do well in hot climates. They like it on the cool side. In some part of their range they almost never see direct sunlight in the wild.
DAY TIME TEMPS
On the cool end of the cage temps should be between 70 and 75 degrees.
On the warm end of the cage the temps should be between 75 to 85 degrees, maximum.
Temps at night can drop 5 to 8 degrees. I use light bulbs to heat the cage during the day and nothing at all for the night time. You can offer your animal a basking spot but they will hardly if ever use it.
The humidity levels for this species should be between 60% to 80%. You can allow it to drop a little if you will be cycling them for breeding…… This can only go on for a short period of time. Bitis’ can dehydrate very quickly. Too much humidity without proper ventilation can cause scale rot and upper respiratory infections. Too little and you will wind up with very jerky snake.
As mentioned above, the Bitis Gabonica can dehydrate very quickly. There are a few tricks I have learned over the years to keep them hydrated.
Always keep a clean supply of drinking water in the cage. Gaboons do not readily drink from standing water supplies but they will drink from one if they happen to stumble upon it in their travels.
Feeding a healthy gaboon viper should be no problem at all. If you buy a gaboon viper and it does not eat within a week or two there could be some health problems.
Young gaboons can be fed more often than adults. Young can be fed two to three times a week depending on the size of the prey offered.
Adults can be fed one to two times a week also depending on the size of the prey offered……. Some people say that gaboons will become impacted if they are fed too often but the fact is if they are properly hydrated they will have no problems passing waste. Infact Gaboon vipers and other member of the bitis family have been known to retain enough fecal matter to make up 20% of their body weight. The reasons for this are not proven but some speculate it is for extra weight so they can stike harder and faster and more accurately. The extra weight is used almost as ballast. A lot of extra weight without all of the biological cost of muscle and bone. I also suggest not feeding your snake in its enclosure, especially if you are keeping it on a natural substrate. Also if you have 2 or more house together they should be separated during feeding time.
As with any venomous species, gaboons should never be housed in an all glass aquarium with a screen top. Aside from the fact that they do not hold heat and humidity well there is the danger of being bitten through the screen top.
Vision cages are great for medium to large bitis. Young bitis should not be kept in visions because they can hide very easily under the sliding glass tracks.
Another good caging system would be Precision. These two styles of caging are the best for hots as they are solid and the sliding glass doors or hinged doors can be locked very easily.
There are many different types of substrates that can be used to keep gaboons on but the one that I have had the least amounts of problems with is cypress mulch. It retains humidity well and gaboons love to bury themselves in it. I always suggest baking or microwaving any substrate before putting it in a cage to rid it of any bugs that may be hanging out in it. NEVER use pine or cedar shavings as a substrate because it is toxic and can prove to be fatal.