Animal experts are on hand to help seize about 15 animals from the Reptile Ocean building in Campbellton where two boys died Monday after apparently being strangled by a python that escaped an enclosure.
The New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has obtained a warrant to search the three-storey building.
Only illegal exotic animals will be confiscated, said Bruce Dougan, the manager of the Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton, who is assisting DNR and the RCMP with the investigation.
A number of exotic animals were discovered while the police were investigating the deaths of Noah Barthe, 4, and his brother Connor, 6, believed killed by an African rock python, communications officer Anne Bull said in a statement.
"If we discover illegal exotic animals, they will be seized, and efforts will be made to relocate them to accredited zoos," Bull said.
There were animals on all three storeys of the building located at 2 Pleasant St., including a top-floor residence, Dougan told CBC News.
Any tortoises will be going to the Moncton zoo, said Dougan. The animals are going to be crated in the building then brought outside, he said.
The rest will be dealt with by officials at the Indian River Reptile Zoo in Peterborough, Ont., who are also helping DNR determine which animals are dangerous and which are not allowed in the province, he said.
Bry Loyst, from Peterborough's Indian River Reptile Zoo, said he couldn't comment on the state of the animals, saying decisions on their care are being made with the provincial government, CBC's Brigitte Noël reported.
Some animals could go to accredited zoos in Toronto and Calgary.
Meanwhile, there are many lingering questions about how an illegal python arrived in Campbellton, and why it was being kept in the apartment above the exotic pet store.
The banned reptile was likely given to the owner of Reptile Ocean by wildlife authorities for safekeeping, according to a former employee.
In appropriate cage
"This is an animal that was removed from the home to prevent this from happening, and it landed in a zoo," said Marc Doiron, who now runs Isaac’s Ark, a snake breeding facility in Moncton.
"When this came to his doorstep he had to take it somewhere. He had to take it into the zoo … that animal was in an appropriate cage from the best of my knowledge."
Doiron said the python should have been removed from the building as soon as Reptile Ocean changed from a zoo to a store and stopped applying for a zoo permit.
In the statement from DNR, Bull said the department never had any involvement with the python, according to its records.
The province also had no knowledge of the existence of the python prior to this week’s tragedy, said Bull.
Environment Canada confirms the Moncton SPCA discovered a python on its doorstep in 2002, and officials helped the SPCA move the snake to Campbellton.
Permit never issued, SPCA says
The New Brunswick SPCA, which issues licences to pet stores, said the business never had a pet store permit.
However, Doiron said Reptile Ocean changed over to a pet store after a period of renovations several years ago.
"I don’t know who is at fault but I am not ready to blame the owner, I’m not ready to blame the snake," he said.
"I am ready to blame the government officials that saw the paperwork go through and said, ‘You are transitioning from a zoo to a store, and you are taking care of animals in which we have placed in your custody,’" said Doiron.
Gerry Redmond, a former wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources, said he inspected Reptile Ocean twice in the late 1990s.
'I could look back and say, ‘Why didn’t I do more to shut that down? Those two kids could be alive today.’ I just felt terrible.'—Gerry Redmond, retired wildlife biologist
One inspection was done in 1996 when the owner, Jean-Claude Savoie, wanted to open a reptile exhibit, said Redmond.
Redmond said he doubted it would have met the minimum standards required to be considered a zoo.
"I don’t think they have ever met the requirements. They might have been given a temporary permit to either get themselves up to speed or get out of business," said Redmond.
"I could look back and say, ‘Why didn’t I do more to shut that down? Those two kids could be alive today.’ I just felt terrible.
"It’s a thing that happens. Maybe even if we had all the rules and regulations in place, it still could have been an accident that would have happened."
Preliminary autopsy results on the two New Brunswick boys who were killed after the python escaped its enclosure show they died from asphyxiation, RCMP said Wednesday.
The pathologist completed the autopsies on Noah and Connor Barthe on Tuesday.
Reptile Ocean remained cordoned off with yellow police tape on Thursday. RCMP are still combing through the building, looking for clues, said CBC's Michael Dick.
Meanwhile, people in the community are also looking for answers, said Dick. Emotion in the tight-knit community is still very raw, he said.
A funeral for the two boys scheduled for Saturday is expected to see a large turnout of people looking to show support for the family, said Dick.
A vigil held in Campbellton on Wednesday evening drew hundreds of people.
The vigil lasted just over half an hour, and included family friends, prayers from the local church and comments from the deputy mayor.
One young boy, who was a friend of the deceased brothers, spoke and asked that all the toys that had been donated be given to the boys in heaven.
Under the weight of the tragedy one woman said it was good to see people coming together.