A Manitoba snake expert says it's unlikely an attack by an African rock python — like the one suspected in the death of two New Brunswick boys — would happen in Winnipeg, where such snakes are illegal.

Rob Vendramelli of the Manitoba Herpetocultural Society, which promotes reptiles and amphibians as pets, said Winnipeg's bylaws have banned such snakes for years.

The recently-revamped responsible pet bylaw just reinforced those rules, making it illegal to have a snake longer than two metres.

"These snakes, including other large pythons like Burmese and reticulated pythons, were banned even under the old bylaw. So they have been illegal in Winnipeg for decades," he said.

Vendramelli said the society supports the ban because such pythons are massive and difficult to care for.

Even so, he is shocked that a python might be responsible for the deaths of Noah Barthe, 5, and Connor Barthe, 7, Campbellton, N.B.

'It's absolutely tragic'

The two boys were found dead Monday morning.

They were sleeping in an apartment upstairs from Reptile Ocean, an exotic pet store. Police believe the python got into the apartment and strangled them.

"It's horrific. It's absolutely tragic. I can’t even imagine what the town and these families are going through right now," said Vendramelli, adding he's never heard of anything like this happening in Canada before.

Despite the rules against snakes in Winnipeg, they could still be somewhere in the province — maybe even in the city, said Leland Gordon, chief operating officer for the City of Winnipeg's animal services department.

The only way the city can be aware of problem snakes is if people complain about them.

"We don't really know how much of an underground market there is because it's underground," Gordon said.

And as for the areas outside the city, there are rural municipalities without restrictions on exotic animals, he added.

Gordon said it's not known how many pet snakes there are in Winnipeg because the animals are kept indoors.

"Yeah, we find them now and then, but it is very rare because for the most part they are kept behind the doors," he said.

"If they do get out, it's very sad because most of these animals obviously can't survive in the wild."