Terry Phillip

"People think it’s dangerous because it’s exotic, but it’s actually less dangerous than working construction."

Position: Curator

Responsibilities: Manages the entire animal collection and is the primary person dealing with the deadly snakes.

Managing the needs of some of the most dangerous animals in this reptile park (and in the world), Terry is widely known for his work with venomous reptiles. He is also responsible for the rest of the reptile collection at Reptile Gardens, the seasonal Crocodilian and Snake Shows, and year-round outreach programs.

Providing daily animal care and maintenance, Terry cleans and maintains enclosures, conducts feedings, observes the behavior and monitors the health of each animal, sets up breeding programs, and, of course, handles the venomous snakes. He says of his daily routine:

“It’s really nothing glamorous, I basically clean up poo all day.”

How he became a deadly snake handler…

Infatuated with reptiles since childhood, Terry began his career at Reptile Gardens as an Alligator Wrestler, quickly becoming a permanent fixture of the reptile department.

After his predecessor and original mentor, Don Middaugh, moved away to manage a zoo collection in Maryland, Terry took on the responsibilities of his current position as Curator of Reptiles and continued his work under the guidance of Head Curator Ken Earnest.

"Learning from two of the world’s most experienced dangerous reptile curators really cultivated my passion for working with venomous snakes."

Best part of the job

“Not everyone gets to live their childhood dream. Every day is exciting; there’s always something unusual to deal with, like when an overly curious python decides to get too close when I’m cleaning his cage. It’s not every day that a 21-foot, 200 pound python with a bad attitude decides to get feisty... let’s just say the experience was pretty intense.”


Things to know about Terry

  1. He grew up in Colorado and came to Reptile Gardens for the first time during a family vacation.
  2. As a young child, he would hang out at local pet stores and read about these exotic animals nonstop.
  3. Maniac is his favorite animal.
  4. He averages 800-1000 interactions with deadly snakes per week, and has only had 1 venomous bite in his career.




Main Exhibits






Other Reptiles

Amphibians and Bugs

Native to South Dakota


Botanical Gardens




About Us

Privacy Policy

Sky Dome

Step inside the Sky Dome to experience a warm tropical climate while exploring our indoor jungle filled with exotic and unique flora and fauna. 

Rattlesnake Gulch Funtier Town

Try your hand at gemstone sluicing, go on a 3D safari, or test your aim at the shooting gallery! Our very own old west ghost town has numerous photo opportunities and activities to keep the kids entertained.

Cheyenne's Habitat

Cheyenne the bald eagle has been a permanent resident of Reptile Gardens for 11 years with permission of the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

Maniac's habitat

Maniac is our resident giant saltwater crocodile. At over 16 feet long and1,350pounds, he is one of the largest giant crocodiles in the western hemisphere. If you don't see him at his enclosure inside the SkyDome, make sure to check outside!

Prairie Dog Town

Get down to eye-level with these fuzzy little animals and see firsthand what life is like in a typical prairie dog town!

Methuselah's Playground

Methuselah was a giant Galapagos Tortoise weighing in at over 600 pounds, and a long time resident of Reptile Gardens. His memory lives on at this playground featuring a bronze statue of Methuselah himself. 

Snake Show stage

Get up-close-and-personal with our snake ambassadors in this family-friendly snake handling show.

Gator Show stage

Dozens of Alligators, Crocodiles, and Caimans and one keeper...what could go wrong? Separate fact from fiction in this educational, family-friendly show and get a chance to pet Fluffy, our baby gator!

Bird Show stage

Interact with birds from around the world at the Bird Show, where they love to show off their beauty and intelligence. 

Gift Shop

Carrying a wide variety of Reptile Gardens souvenirs as well as educational books for every age and a variety of stunning rocks, minerals, and fossils from all over the world.

Green Parrot Cafe

Hungry? Refuel with buffalo burgers, The Maniac burger, Black Mamba Shakes, Indian Tacos, and more!

Giant Tortoise

Don't miss this photo opportunity! Get up-close and personal with these friendly giants who love to have their neck scratched and are great with kids. 

Tortuga Falls

Take a stroll through this meditative garden, gaze into our turtle and koi pond, listen to the waterfalls, and don't miss Darwin the Kookaburra! 

Walking Garden

We're about more than just Reptiles! Our outdoor gardens are beauty to be seen as they change throughout the season and year after year. 

Living Wall

This vertical garden is a wall of color that grows and changes through the Summer season creating striking patterns and unique portraits as it grows. 

Pet A Python

Don't miss your chance to Pet a Python!  Our snake handlers ar here to talk about any questions or myths you've heard about snakes. Don't forget your camera! Our pythons are very photogenic and love to photos with you!