Thursday, 15 August 2013


5a) Python kills two boys in their sleep at New Brunswick sleepover 

GLOBE AND MAIL (Toronto, Ontario) 8/5/13 by Jane Taber

Two young boys in northern New Brunswick are dead after a python snake is believed to have escaped from an exotic animal store, slithered through ventilation ducts into an upstairs apartment and strangled them while they were sleeping, according to Campbellton, New Brunswick RCMP.

It is believed that the boys, five and seven-years-old, were brothers. The RCMP will not confirm this. An RCMP spokeswoman said, however, that the two did not live in the upstairs apartment but were on a sleepover.

The snake, which is in RCMP possession, is believed to have come from Reptile Ocean, an establishment in Campbellton that has exotic fish and reptiles. The establishment has three employees and has been in operation for at least 16 years.

The police were called to the apartment early in the morning where the boys were found dead, said the spokeswoman. Autopsies are being performed on the boys bodies.

Nearby residents said that police had been around the store since early in the morning. A 75-year-old resident, who refused to give her name, said there was quite a “commotion” around the store.

A 1996 report on zoos in the Maritimes for Zoocheck Canada Inc. and World Society for the Protection of Animals written by Dr. John Gripper, a veterinarian, gave a good review of Reptile Ocean. Dr. Gripper reported that the reptiles appeared to be in good health and the water in their tanks was clean. The collection of reptiles had only been opened a few months before his inspection.

He wrote that the owner, Jean-Claude Savoie “is a young, enthusiastic amateur collector who has only recently embarked on this commercial venture.” “In my opinion, it is only likely to be financially viable if he can obtain a national reputation as a successful and knowledgeable breeder of reptiles,” wrote Dr. Gripper.

However, there was an online petition calling for Reptile Ocean to be shut down. The person who started the petition complained about the humidity in the store and the condition of some animals.


5b) N.B. python attack shines spotlight on 'patchwork' of exotic animal rules-Why did a python kill 2 boys in N.B.? Experts explain 'extremely rare' attack

Aug. 5, 2013. (CP)

"We recognize that this has touched the hearts of people across the world and that people want to know how this could have happened. Our investigators are looking at all aspects of this tragic incident, and that will take some time."

Police said a 15-foot African rock python escaped its enclosure in an apartment where the boys were sleeping over, slithered through a ventilation system and fell through a ceiling into the living room.

The boys' bodies were discovered by the owner of the apartment, Jean-Claude Savoie, early Monday morning.

Savoie also owns an exotic animal store, Reptile Ocean, located below the apartment.

The snake has since been euthanized. The RCMP said a necropsy showed that the python was in overall good health, but investigators are still waiting on the final report.

Meanwhile, a vigil is planned for the brothers on Wednesday evening.

"It won't be a closure, but it's something that people in this close-knit community have wanted to do," Campbellton deputy mayor Ian Comeau told CTV's Canada AM. "Share some stories, and their grief, and their sadness.”

The vigil will take place in a park featuring a giant salmon – a trademark of Campbellton – approximately a block away from where the two brothers died.

Family members are expected to be present at the vigil. Officials are asking people to keep a respectable distance from the family to allow them to grieve.

The boys’ deaths have shocked the northern New Brunswick community, where friends and family have described the brothers as having a love for life.

During a news conference Tuesday, Tremblay would not comment on whether Savoie had the right to keep such a snake, saying the investigation is still in the early stages.

However, a spokesperson with the provincial government said Savoie did not have the permit required to house the python, adding that the snake is generally only allowed in accredited zoos.

Comeau noted that there's some anger in Campbellton toward Savoie, but he stressed that people should refrain from rushing to judgement.

"He's grieving," Comeau said. "He's got a son that lost two good friends and it’s important we let the people out there know to let him grieve."

Paul Goulet, owner of Little Ray's Reptile Zoo in Ottawa, said it's very rare for a snake to strangle humans, as they’re not considered a food source.

The brothers were at a farm before the python attack, according a relative, and they were handling animals.

"That would be an explanation of how the snake could potentially mistake (the boys) for a food item," Goulet said.

"They rely heavily on their sense of smell and they have an unbelievably sensitive sense of smell," he said. "They would smell a goat or some other animals and not recognize that this isn't a food source."

Goulet said snakes have the ability to constrict their prey within seconds.

"I hate to think about what happened that night, but if those children were asleep, by the time they even woke up and realized what was happening and tried to scream, it would potentially be too late.

A funeral for the two brothers has been planned for Saturday at 3 p.m. ET at St. Thomas Aquinas church. The boys will be buried together in one casket.

The brothers’ mother told CTV Atlantic that they lived every moment together and so she wanted them to go to their final resting place together.

With a report from CTV’s Atlantic bureau chief Todd Battis


5c) ‘Very, very strange’: Snake handlers, experts baffled by New Brunswick python attack

8/6/13 by Sarah Boesveld, Global News 

The deaths of two young brothers apparently killed by an African rock python as they slept early Monday has left a New Brunswick town in mourning, and snake handlers questioning how such a rare incident could have happened.

Snakes are master escape artists and this 100 lb, 14-16 foot creature was no different, having slithered up the wall of its glass enclosure and through a ceiling vent in a second-floor Campbellton, N.B., apartment, police told reporters Tuesday.

The python then made its way through the ventilation shaft and spilled out into the living room where Noah Barthe, 4, and Connor Barthe, 6 were sleeping, having stayed overnight at the home of family friend Jean-Claude Savoie, who ran exotic pet shop Reptile Ocean on the floor below.

What happened next has been described as a fatal “attack” or a “strangling,” though the coroner reports on both the boys and the snake — which has since been euthanized and was not a legal pet in the province — were not yet available by press time on Tuesday.

“We appreciate the outpouring of sympathy that’s been shown,” Dave Rose, the boys’ uncle, told a news conference in Campbellton. Local residents had started a small memorial across the street from the scene of the tragedy.

‘It’s like a bad dream’: Family, friends in shock over death of N.B. boys believed strangled by python

African rock python euthanized, N.B. police scour ‘crime scene’ where brothers were killed at sleepover

Adding to the pile of unanswered questions, herpetologists, snake breeders and those who own snakes as pets are unconvinced by claims that the snake hunted the boys down.

“I’m totally skeptical,” said Johan Marais, who has written multiple books on these snakes and runs the African Snakebite Institute.

“It just sounds very, very strange. The fact that we don’t know if there was evidence of one kid being bitten, it’s puzzling that the two would be bitten,” he said Tuesday from Pretoria, South Africa.

African rock snakes, found in evergreen forests and open savannahs from Côte d’Ivoire to Ethiopia, do not just constrict their prey — first, they bite in order to anchor the animal they’re hunting down (anything from rats to antelopes, and they could easily fell an adult). Then, they begin to constrict, coiling around the body, damaging muscles, squeezing the air out of the lungs, causing cardiac arrest and then death, Mr. Marais said. Then, they eat their prey head first.

But they don’t eat very often — just a few times a year — and snakes held in captivity, like this one, are typically “overfed,” he said.

“Snakes don’t kill for fun,” Mr. Marais said. “It takes far too much energy.”

Jay Brewer describes the African rock python as among the most “misunderstood” constrictors he’s ever encountered. The president of Prehistoric Pets, a large pet store in Fountain Valley, Ca., has about 10 to 20 of these snakes in stock, but it’s not the first choice of many snake owners — even those who like large constrictors.

“A lot of people consider them to be really mean, but to be honest they’re mostly misunderstood, they’re just real frightened, real scared snakes,” he said. Rock pythons will strike at a perceived threat to try to scare it off rather than lunge and bite, Mr. Brewer said.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you it’s impossible, but it’s really out of character for a snake not to bite and constrict and it’s really out of character for two victims and not just one.”

The snake would have also had to wrap its body around horizontally lying children, if they were sleeping during an attack — another unlikelihood, he said, considering a snake bite from a constrictor would elicit blood-curdling screams, waking anyone sleeping nearby.

But African rock pythons have claimed the lives of small children in the past — albeit not by striking, biting and squeezing as it would its prey.

Robert & Melissa Altom of Centralia, Ill., were acquitted of child endangerment in 2000 after their 3-year-old son was smothered by a 7 1/2 foot African rock python while he slept. Judge Harold Pennock said prosecutors failed to prove the parents knew the snake was “practically certain” to pose a threat to their son.

Snakes longer than three feet are prohibited pets in most provinces and municipalities in Canada, which automatically excludes large constrictors such as the African rock python. Legal reptiles are supposed to be kept in heavy glassed-in enclosures with locks.

“If someone were to phone me up and say ‘I want an African rock python’ that would be like saying ’I want a pit bull for dog fighting,’” said Corey Woods, a snake breeder in Guelph, Ont., who primarily breeds ball pythons, the most common snake of this type held in captivity in Canada. The ball python earned its name for the way it coils up into a ball when it’s scared, he said.

What happened in New Brunswick is “tragic,” he said, adding he, too, is skeptical of how these children could have been killed by a snake in their sleep if all 100 lbs of it tumbled from a ceiling vent (“that’s like a sack full of bowling balls,” he said).

“Everybody’s going to be calling to ban all pythons and that’s like saying ‘Somebody got bit by a dog so we should ban all dogs,’” he said. “We really need to find out exactly what happened — was the python really responsible for this?”

Snakes have had a bad reputation since the beginning of time, Mr. Marais points out.

“Snakes have had bad press from the day Adam and Eve came along,” he said. “It’s never got better for them.”

The local RCMP are treating the case as a criminal investigation and are also concerned about the pet shop owner’s safety due to community backlash. No charges have been laid.

_________________________________________________________________5d) N.B. boys who died after python attack were asphyxiated: autopsy Staff, August 7, 2013

Preliminary results from autopsies performed on two young New Brunswick brothers believed to have been killed by a large python show the boys died of asphyxiation, the RCMP said Wednesday.

A pathologist has concluded that Noah Barthe, 4, and Connor Barthe, 6, were asphyxiated, police said.

"While we now have some preliminary information, investigators still have to wait for other test results to come back and for the final report," Sgt. Alain Tremblay of the New Brunswick RCMP said in a statement.

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Snake that killed N.B. brothers was kept in apartment where they slept: RCMP

5e) Python's strangling of 2 boys in Canada probed

ROB GILLIES, AP, Wed Aug 7, 2013

TORONTO — A 100-pound (45-kilogram) python blamed in the strangling deaths of two Canadian boys apparently escaped from its enclosure, slithered through a ventilation system and fell through the ceiling into the room where the young brothers were sleeping, authorities said Tuesday.

A snake expert said it was possible that the python was spooked and simply clung to whatever it landed on. Police are treating the deaths in Campbellton, New Brunswick, as a criminal investigation.

Autopsies on Noah Barthe, 4 and his brother Connor Barthe, 6, were performed Tuesday.

The brothers had been visiting the apartment of a friend whose father owned an exotic pet store on the floor below, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sgt. Alain Tremblay said at a news conference in Campbellton. Tremblay said the African rock python was being kept inside the second floor apartment, not inside the pet store as authorities had previously stated.

Steve Benteau, a spokesman for the provincial Natural Resources Department, said no permit was issued for an African rock python and provincial authorities weren't aware it was being kept at the apartment. The department said the snake is generally only permitted in accredited zoos, unless there is a special permit.

Tremblay said the snake was housed in a large glass enclosure that reached the ceiling of the apartment and escaped through a small hole in the ceiling connected to the ventilation system. He said the snake made its way through the ventilation system and moved toward the living room, where the boys were sleeping. The pipe collapsed and the snake fell.

The friend of the boys was sleeping in another room and was unharmed.

The pet store owner, Jean-Claude Savoie, told the Global News television station that he didn't hear a sound and discovered the "horrific scene" when he went into his living room on Monday morning.

"I can't believe this is real," Savoie said.

He said the boys were the children of his best friend and were often at his apartment to visit his son. Savoie said the python, which he has had for at least 10 years, had been kept alone in its enclosure and was not handled by anyone else.

Police said the snake was killed by a veterinarian. It was sent for a necropsy to confirm the type of snake and help understand what may have caused it to attack.

Family spokesman Dave Rose, the boys' great-uncle, said the brothers had spent Monday at Savoie's family farm and played with different animals before staying over at the apartment. Rose thanked the community for their support and asked for privacy.

The snake was about 4.3 meters (14 feet) long, Tremblay said. He said police were looking at whether the store followed the province's regulations on exotic animals.

"It's a criminal investigation," Tremblay said. "We're going to look at all avenues."

The RCMP's Major Crime Unit is continuing the investigation, with the assistance of a reptile expert from the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton, New Brunswick.

"I guess we can assume that given the size of the snake that certain things occurred, but the pathologist will be identifying the cause of death," Tremblay said.

Tremblay said police spoke to the store owner briefly and will meet with him again.

Reptile expert Bry Loyst, curator of the Indian River Reptile Zoo in Ontario, said police have been seeking his advice. He said he was told by police that it wasn't the first time that the python had escaped its enclosure. Police were not available to confirm that late Tuesday.

Loyst noted the boys had been playing with other animals hours earlier and he believes their scent might have attracted the snake.

Paul Goulet, founder and co-owner of Little Ray's Reptile Zoo in Ottawa, said snakes don't recognize humans as a source of food, but if the children smelled like animals, it could explain an attack.

"If a snake sees an animal moving, giving off heat and smells like a goat, what is it? It's a goat," Goulet said. "The reasonable explanation of how this has happened is that they had been playing with farm animals, they did smell like their prey items and the snake sadly enough mistook them as a food item when they weren't."

Rose said the kids had played with llamas, goats, horses and dogs and cats just a few hours earlier.

The town's deputy mayor, Ian Comeau, said the Reptile Ocean shop was licensed to operate and "everything was according to our bylaws, to the provincial guidelines." He said he saw alligators, crocodiles and snakes when he toured the shop with the fire department about two years ago.

Snake expert John Kendrick, a manager at the Reptile Store in Hamilton, Ontario, said it sounds like the python was not enclosed properly and might have been spooked. He called the strangling deaths "very unusual" but said African rock pythons tend to be a little more high-strung.

"It's very odd that one would go out and seek out a person. They don't recognize us as food," he said.

Pythons can sense heat, and if they are startled they can grab something, Kendrick said. He said snakes are very long and their muscles run lengthwise through their body, so they are not very stable unless they are holding on to something.

"A snake that size that was just trying to hold on securely enough to make sure he felt like he wasn't falling or going anywhere; he has enough muscle power to cut off circulation," he said.

It's possible that the python was just holding on to what it landed on, Kendrick said.

"Once they are in constricting mode, any part of their body that is touching something that moves, they'll wrap it," he said. "I've seen snakes with two different prey items at the same time, one with the back of the body and one with the front. It could have been an incident like that."


5f) New Brunswick python owner got animals from Environment Canada

By Nick Logan Global News 8/8/13

Jean-Claude Savoie, the owner of the python that the RCMP says killed two boys in northern New Brunswick earlier this week, did government officials a favour by taking in the animal and several others, a former employee told Global News.

According to Marc Doiron, officials routinely brought seized reptiles to Savoie’s store, Reptile Ocean, when they were unable to facilitate care for them.

Doiron said he worked at Reptile Ocean for six months in total, in 2001 and 2002.

He told Global News that officials also brought a Cuban crocodile to Reptile Ocean sometime in 2001 or 2002.

It’s believed that’s one of the 16 animals that Department of Natural Resources officials are preparing to remove from the Campbellton exotic pet store.

Now a snake breeder, Doiron said the crocodile was seized at Moncton airport and officials brought it to Reptile Ocean because it was the only facility capable of taking care of it.

“All kinds of government had to get [involved] because of the rarity and endangered status of this animal,” he explained.

He said Savoie was more or less “babysitting” the animals for the government because they didn’t have the proper means to manage them.

Doiron said Savoie is now being “hung out to dry” and being blamed for having the deadly snake on his property.

Global News contacted Environment Canada for comment on Doiron’s statement.

Environment Canada spokesperson Mark Johnson confirmed in an email Thursday evening that the agency seized the crocodile in 2002 following an investigation that took place in N.B. and Alberta.

“The crocodile was placed with Reptile Ocean in June 2002 as it was operating as a zoo in the province of New Brunswick. Environment Canada places seized live animals in facilities for care under long-term loan agreements,” Johnson said.

He did not provide details about the long-term loan agreements.

Johnson also confirmed to Global News on Wednesday that Environment Canada officials brought the African rock python to Savoie in 2002, after it was dropped off anonymously at the local SPCA.

RCMP believe the 45-kilogram snake escaped from a glass enclosure in Savoie’s apartment, above the store, asphyxiating six-year-old Connor Barthe and his four-year-old brother Noah while they slept in the living room.

“You have to understand than a man does not come across these animals just because he wants them,” Doiron said. “The government was in step every step of the way with him.”

He said Savoie often took in animals that no one else wanted or were considered a danger to public safety.

“No one can look at me with a straight face and say they didn’t know he had what he had. It can’t be done,” Doiron said.

“We have to stop looking at him as this guy who owns too many snakes. We have to look at him as a guy who provided an amazing public service,” he added.

RCMP investigators are still trying to determining whether they will lay charges in the case.

A funeral service for the boys is scheduled for Saturday.

Meanwhile, the manager of a New Brunswick zoo says officials are preparing to remove more than a dozen animals from the building housing Savoie’s store and apartment.

Bruce Dougan, the manager of the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton, N.B., says it could take two days to safely remove 16 animals and put them into crates.

Dougan, who has been inside Reptile Ocean, said there are four large American alligators, six crocodiles, some tortoises, turtles and snakes in the shop.

He said the tortoises will be going to his zoo, while the rest of the animals seized will be taken to the Indian River Reptile Zoo in Indian River, Ont.

But as of late afternoon Thursday, officials had not yet begun removing any of the animals. Dougan said it would likely take the rest of Thursday and most of Friday before the reptiles could be completely removed from the premises.

The snake was seized by RCMP on Monday and destroyed.

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