New Brunswick

Python pet shop tied to boys' deaths had 27 illegal animals

Twenty-seven illegal animals have been removed from the building in Campbellton, N.B., where two boys were killed by an African rock python, including four American alligators kept in the main-floor exotic pet store that had to be euthanized on site.

Banned African rock python killed Noah and Connor Barthe, aged 4 and 6

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The African rock python that killed two boys in Campbellton, N.B., on Monday wasn't the only banned species found at the Reptile Ocean pet store, officials say.

Twenty-seven illegal animals, including some endangered ones, have been removed from the three-storey building, including the top-floor residence, said Bry Loyst from Peterborough's Indian River Reptile Zoo, who is assisting the provincial Department of Natural Resources and the RCMP.

But four of them — large American alligators — had to be euthanized on site because no zoos were able to accommodate them, officials said. A statement from DNR, however, said the decision to euthanize was made primarily "due to safety concerns" for the people involved in removing the animals.

Two small crocodiles, called dwarf caimans, were removed.

Some of the other animals included a variety of crocodile species, sulcata tortoises, iguanas and green anacondas, said Bruce Dougan, the manager of Moncton's Magnetic Hill Zoo, who is also assisting.

Hundreds of animals remain in the store, Loyst told CBC News.

Kyle O'Grady, assistant curator of the Indian River Reptile Zoo, said he is "still trying to find the words."

Zoo staff have been called in to deal with similar situations, but "nothing of this magnitude," he said.

The situation is tragic, said O'Grady, adding his heart and thoughts go out to the family.

Crews started to remove some of the reptiles on Thursday night and the work continued on Friday with water being drained from the pond inside the building.

Deputy Mayor Ian Comeau said the team may need some city equipment, such as a loader and backhoe, to get some of the species out.

One of the crocodiles, for example, is about three metres long and weighs about 135 kilograms.

Removing the animals will help bring closure to the grieving community, Comeau said.

Boys to share coffin

Kyle O'Grady, of Indian River Reptile Zoo, with some of the animals being removed from Reptile Ocean in Campbellton. (Brigitte Noel/CBC)

Preliminary autopsy results on Noah Barthe, 4, and his brother Connor, 6 — who were killed after the python escaped its enclosure — show they died from asphyxiation, RCMP said Wednesday.

A funeral is scheduled for Saturday at 4 p.m. local time at a nearby church with 1,200 seats. "The wish of the mother is that they be both buried together, in the same casket," because they were always inseparable, said the deputy mayor.

It's believed the python escaped through the top of a glass enclosure and into a ventilation system. The snake, which was 4.3 metres long and weighed about 45 kilograms, fell through the ceiling and into the living room of an apartment above the reptile store, where the two boys were sleeping.

They were there for a sleepover with the son of the shop owner, Jean-Claude Savoie.

Better monitoring needed

Noah Barthe, left, and Connor Barthe pose in this undated photo posted on the Facebook page of Mandy Trecartin. (Facebook/Canadian Press)

The tragedy has a national animal protection watchdog questioning how such a popular and visible reptile establishment managed to remain open with illegal animals and without the proper permits.

Although Reptile Ocean was a licensed zoo at one point, it later became a store, which had some illegal animals, including the African rock python that apparently strangled two boys on Monday after escaping an enclosure.

"I think … it comes down to the fact that we need well-placed, powerful political champions that decide yes, health care is important, and yes, jobs are important, but this is also an issue that's important, because it affects people and animals, which people value," said Rob Laidlaw, of Zoo Check.

CBC News has repeatedly asked for an interview with New Brunswick's Natural Resources Minister Bruce Northrup this week, but department employees have said the minister will not comment because of the RCMP investigation.

A shrine for Noah and Connor Barthe continued to grow outside Reptile Ocean all week. (Brigitte Noel/CBC)

Department officials have said Reptile Ocean did not have a permit to have the African rock python, which is a banned snake in the province.

The department also had no knowledge of the existence of the python prior to this week’s tragedy, officials said.

"According to our records, we have never had any involvement with this snake or a crocodile," spokeswoman Anne Bull said in a statement earlier this week.

It was Environment Canada officials who helped the Moncton SPCA move the python to Campbellton after it was discovered on the shelter's doorstep in 2002.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking in Miramichi, N.B., after an unrelated funding announcement, said that "we're obviously all going to look at what exactly has occurred here to try and get all the facts."

"My understanding is that these types of establishments are regulated principally by provincial and municipal governments," Harper said. "But, in any case, we are going to obviously, at our level as well, try and ascertain exactly what has occurred and if there is, or is not any federal role, what needs to be done about that."

Officers from the Department of Natural Resources, the RCMP and representatives from the Magnetic Hill Zoo were in and out of the shop all day on Thursday.

The building remains cordoned off with yellow police caution tape.

A memorial with teddy bears and other toys outside the store was removed on Thursday in anticipation of rain. The items will be donated to charity.