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Scientific Writings

Is Fasciotomy For You?

Dean Ripa's denunciation of the practice of fasciotomy in snakebite treatment marks the beginning of a movement against this ruinous practice, in his words, "an epidemic disease more damaging than most snakebites." Three versions of this paper exist, the first published in the Bull. Chicago Herp. in 1999. This enlarged text is reproduced from his electronic book, "The bushmasters (Genus Lachesis, Daudin 1803); Morphology in Evolution and Behavior" (2003 edition). More of Dean’s views on fasciotomy can be read in his interview, The First Ten Minutes (below). Carry this text with you into the medical room, it might be a matter of life and limb.

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Ontogeny of the bushmaster Shock Death in Human Beings.

The surprising results of Dean's investigation into neonatal bushmaster venom show a strong increase of shock producing pharmacology vis-a-vis adults, suggesting that the venom of young bushmasters is more deadly drop per drop. Disputes previous studies of the lethality of these snakes. For a fuller understanding of what bushmaster venom does to the human victim, this paper should be read with Ripa's earlier papers, Six New Cases of bushmaster Envenoming (2000; 2003), and Is Fasciotomy for You? (2003). .

it's about effervescence...

Death in the Garden

Dean Ripa's horrifying first hand accounts of four of his own bushmaster bites as of the year 1999, from a 2003 revision of his book on bushmasters, with descriptions of two other bites on American snake keepers. Includes a photo series of one of Dean's more recent bites by a juvenile South American bushmaster ( L. muta muta), not reported in the original text, with a brief description of the symptoms.

Interview With Dean Ripa

Serpentarium owner and founder Dean Ripa talks about his latest bushmaster bite in this full interview by Regina Mertens. Mr. Ripa has suffered 7 envenomations by bushmasters during his three decades of working with this deadly species.

Dean Ripa was the first herpetologist to...

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, 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.” Dean Ripa is the owner and director of one of the world’s largest snake museums, Cape Fear Serpentarium, where he maintains the largest breeding population of bushmasters on earth.

Dean Ripa was the first herpetologist in the world to watch bushmasters mate, and discovered the unique behavioral usage of the bushmaster's dorsal ridge and rasp-like scales:  An adjunct to courtship, the male bushmaster uses the sharp scales to stimulate the female, inverting his body on top of hers and, using fiddling motions, literally "sawing" himself against her.  His observations of nesting females confirmed that bushmasters really do brood their eggs until hatching, a rare example of maternal care among venomous snakes.  Long before most zoos had learned to keep these difficult animals alive, Dean Ripa reproduced two species of bushmaster for the first time in captivity, the Central American bushmaster, and the Blackheaded Bushmaster.  Almost all captive collections of these species in the U.S are related to his stock.  He also produced the world's first bushmaster hybrid— "recreating" an extinct ancestor to the existing species, whose ancestors were separated for millions of years by a mountain chain in Central America.  Ripa spent years living in the Neotropics studying and collecting bushmasters in their native habitats, and credits his success with breeding them from this experience.