Terry Phillip

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

Position: Curator - Animal Department

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.



Things To Do

Main Exhibits




Animal Facts



Native to South Dakota


Botanical Gardens


About Us

Dog Policy

We love all animals, wild and domesticated. Unfortunately due to a high number of recent incidents with dogs, our insurance company has advised us that we can no longer allow dogs, or other personal pets, on the Reptile Gardens grounds. ADA approved service dogs are, of course, allowed although there are three areas where they are not allowed for their safety and the safety of our animals. We do offer a shaded grassy area adjacent to our parking lot for walking your dog. We only ask that your pet be leashed and attended to at all times. You are welcome to come and go from the park as often as you like to tend to your dog. For more information, visit our FAQ Page


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