POLITICS

Crews seize, euthanize animals from shop below apartment where snake killed boys

08/09/2013 06:57 EDT | Updated 10/09/2013 05:12 EDT
CAMPBELLTON, N.B. - Crocodiles, snakes and lizards were among the nearly two dozen animals seized by zoo staff Friday from the exotic pet store at the centre of the investigation into the deaths of two boys killed by an African rock python in New Brunswick.

Four American alligators that were housed inside Reptile Ocean had to be euthanized because officials couldn't find accredited zoos that would take them, said Bruce Dougan, the manager of the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton, N.B.

"It's never easy to euthanize an animal but in this situation it's the best possible outcome for these animals," Dougan said outside the Campbellton pet shop. "We do not want to put them in a situation where they cannot be accommodated."

Another 21 animals, which included a Cuban crocodile, dwarf crocodiles, snakes and lizards, were taken to zoos outside the province because they are banned in New Brunswick without a permit, said Bry Loyst, founder and curator of the Indian River Reptile Zoo in Ontario. Two tortoises were taken to the Magnetic Hill Zoo.

The animals were taken after the Natural Resources Department obtained a warrant earlier this week to search the store. The department said if any illegal animals were found, they would be seized and relocated to accredited zoos.

The African rock python — a species of snake banned in New Brunswick without a special permit — was kept in a glass tank in an apartment upstairs from the store. Police say at some point Sunday night, the 45-kilogram serpent slithered through a ventilation system located above the tank and fell through a ceiling into the living room where four-year-old Noah Barthe and his six-year-old brother Connor slept.

They were found dead Monday morning. Preliminary results of autopsies show that the snake asphyxiated them.

"You can take the animal out of the jungle but you can't take the jungle out of the animal," said Kyle O'Grady, assistant curator of the Indian River Reptile Zoo.

In his first public comments on the deaths, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the federal government would review what happened to determine whether it should play a role in the regulation of exotic pet shops.

"We obviously want to express our condolences to all of the families of the two little boys," Harper said after a funding announcement in Miramichi, N.B., about a two-hour drive southeast of Campbellton.

"It's a strange and terrible event, and I know we all feel very deeply for that family."

The apartment and store are owned by Jean-Claude Savoie, a family friend of the boys who took them shopping and to a farm before hosting a sleepover Sunday along with his son. Savoie has not returned repeated messages for comment.

Ian Comeau, the city's deputy mayor, said Savoie is grieving along with the family of the boys.

"There's been a lot of anger towards him but there's no pointing fingers at him right now," Comeau said.

"Like the others, he has lost two friends, and his son has lost two good friends. This investigation will continue and we will not rush to judgment."

A funeral for the boys is planned Saturday at St. Thomas Aquinas Roman Catholic Church. Comeau said the boys will be buried together in one casket.

"It will be a sombre celebration of life of two young kids," he said.