A Tennessee zoo has launched a probe into the heartbreaking mystery death of 30 snakes, a lizard, and two other reptiles.
The animals were found unresponsive when workers arrived at the Knoxville Zoo Wednesday morning, said officials. Ultrasounds were conducted to detect if any of the animals’ tiny hearts were still beating. All of the creatures were in the same building, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported. Nineteen reptiles that survived and were immediately evacuated. The building held most of the zoo’s snakes.
Three of the lost snakes were critically endangered species: the Louisiana pine snake, the Catalina Island rattlesnake and the Aruba Island rattlesnake. Zoo favorites killed included a forest cobra and an albino Eastern diamondback rattlesnake.
“This is a devastating and catastrophic loss to our zoo,” president and CEO of the zoo Lisa New said in a statement on Saturday. “These animals were important ambassadors who helped so many people understand the role snakes and lizards play in the balance of nature.”
New said the deaths also ended current “breeding programs for several endangered and threatened species. It is especially difficult for our herpetologists who have dedicated their careers to caring for and advocating for these animals.”
Veterinarians from the zoo and the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine are investigating the deaths, and inspectors are carefully examining the building.
“We don’t know exactly what occurred to cause this terrible event, but we do know it was isolated to a single building,” New noted. “We are continuing to investigate all the physical systems and conducting necropsies to see if we can gain any insight.”
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