The Serpentarium was opened in 1991 as an exhibition and breeding centre by Catherine and Alex Shearer. Catherine had always been fascinated by reptiles and in 1985 went out to buy a three piece suite but came back with a snake instead. It was a Florida Water Snake which fed on fish. Within a year she had acquired 46 snakes. She then decided that she would like to try and breed them which she did quite successfully.
Alex was also interested in reptiles and helped Catherine with her hobby. They both lived in Falkirk and had a very busy lifestyle. Catherine had been a nursing sister and midwife. This gave her the experience to look after the health of the animals. Alex was in timber management and was very good at diy. This came in handy for building the vivariums and any maintenance that needed to be done.
Catherine had not been keeping well for some time and decided that she would like to move to the Isle of Skye for a different way of life. She was very focused on educating the public about the beauty of reptiles and dispelling a lot of the bad publicity and myths surrounding them. They decided that they would like to open an exhibition and breeding centre on Skye for that purpose.
In 1990 they acquired the lease of the Old Mill very close to the house they had bought and started to build the Skye Serpentarium. The Serpentarium opened in August 1991and was open to the public. It was not initially opened as a refuge but within a few months they had calls from private individuals asking them to take in reptiles to look after. Very soon after they had calls from the CITES enforcement team at Heathrow Airport asking them to take in illegally imported reptiles and from the SSPCA.
To date they have taken in over 700 reptiles. The vast amount of reptiles coming in was a huge drain on their resources so in 1998 it was decide to start a sponsorship scheme starting at £10 a year. In 2003 they opened the Watermill Coffee Shop within the building. In October 2015 after 25 years the Serpentarium and the coffee shop were closed. The majority of the animals were re housed within a unit in their garden which was specially built for the reptiles. Some of the rescued reptiles are now over 20 years old. Unfortunately they are unable to take in any more rescued reptiles and are no longer open to the public.
Our heartfelt thanks go to Ken & Bernadette Duncan for all of the support and encouragement they have given us over the years. We were struggling to keep everything going when they came in to the Serpentarium as visitors. As well as the Serpentarium to run we also had a few hundred reptiles in our unit in the garden to look after and we were doing B&B which was and still is our only source of income. So we had very little free time. Bernadette offered to start the sponsorship scheme for us. She produced all the forms etc and because the computer I had was very old she sent me a Windows one. Once I became a bit more proficient with the computer Bernadette sent me everything I needed to continue with the sponsorship. There are not enough words to express our thanks and appreciation of all they have done for us.
We are very lucky that over the years we have been fortunate to have many people sponsor an animal. We would not have been able to keep going had it not been for the support of our sponsors. When we closed the main Serpentarium building after 25 years we assumed that we would lose the support of the sponsors we had as we were no longer open to the public. However a large number of them have continued to support us. We are very, very grateful to them all. As Catherine always says “our sponsors are very special to us” we couldn’t do it without them. There are a number of special people and families who have supported us so much. It would be unfair to single people out as there are so many, suffice to say they all know who they are. Our deepest thanks to them all.
A group of Tortoises which were smuggled in at Heathrow Airport we had delivered to the Serpentarium
Catherine with the late Terry Nutkins Wildlife TV presenter
A consignment of Chameleons as they arrived at the Serpentarium from Customs at Heathrow Airport
Catherine unpacking the Chameleons at the Serpentarium
Catherine with wildlife TV presenter Steve Backshali on a visit to Skye
Catherine with one of the Spiny Tailed Agamids which arrived from customs at Heathrow Airport
Phil Cunningham MBE and Ally Bain MBE (Traditional Scottish Musicians) on one of their visits to the Serpentarium
This Scorpion was found in bananas at the Portree Coop supermarket. It is very venomous
Nick Baker Wildlife TV presenter on a visit to the Serpentarium
Meeting up with Sue Perkins at her one woman show in Glasgow