33 reptiles mysteriously die at Zoo Knoxville

(Zoo Knoxville)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Zoo Knoxville suffered the loss of 33 reptiles in an event that happened between the hours of 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 21 and 8 a.m. Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

Exactly what occurred is under investigation and the event was isolated to one building in the reptile area.

Zoo staff entered the building on Wednesday morning and discovered 30 snakes and one lizard unresponsive.  The zoo’s animal clinic and vets from the University College of Veterinary Medicine responded immediately. Surviving animals were evacuated and given oxygen and each unresponsive animal was checked for a heartbeat with ultrasound equipment.

(Zoo Knoxville)

Of the 52 animals housed in the building, 33 succumbed. Iconic snakes popular with visitors, including a forest cobra and albino Eastern diamondback rattlesnake and three critically endangered species, the Louisiana pine snake, Catalina Island rattlesnake and Aruba Island rattlesnake, were among the fatalities.

“This is a devastating and catastrophic loss to our zoo,” said Lisa New, President and CEO of Zoo Knoxville.  “These animals were important ambassadors who helped so many people understand the role snakes and lizards play in the balance of nature.  We also lost 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.”

The building where the event occurred has been taken out of use while the event is investigated and necropsy results are performed.  The other buildings in the zoo’s reptile facility were not impacted and continue to be used for housing and public viewing.

“It’s an aging facility and we hope in the future to build a new one so we’re having tests run, we’re looking for gases, we’re looking for mechanical errors on thermostats,” said Phil Colclough with Zoo Knoxville. “We’re grasping at straws at this point to find out exactly what caused this.”