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Pet Store Python Strangles Two Boys For Dinner

August , 2013


Two Canadian boys who were killed by a 14-foot python while sleeping side-by-side died of asphyxiation, a coroner has ruled. The tragic case continues to baffle snake experts.

The python that strangled two young brothers had been kept in the pet store owner's apartment where the boys were sleeping and not with the other animals in the shop below, authorities have revealed.

Police are treating the deaths as a criminal case. Autopsies on Noah Barthe, 4, and his brother Connor Barthe, 6, were performed on Tuesday.

The brothers had been visiting the apartment of a friend whose father owned an exotic pet store on the floor below, Canadian police Sergeant Alain Tremblay said at a news conference in Campbellton. Tremblay said the African rock python, about 4.3 meters (14f) long and 45kg (100lb) in weight, had been kept inside the second-floor apartment, not inside the pet store as authorities had previously stated.

Tremblay said the snake was housed in a large glass enclosure that reached the ceiling of the apartment. It escaped through a small hole in the ceiling connected to the ventilation system. He said the snake made its way through the ventilation system and moved towards the living room, where the boys were sleeping. The ventilation pipe collapsed and the snake fell into the room.

Steve Benteau, a spokesman for the provincial natural resources department, said no permit was issued for an African rock python and provincial authorities had not been aware it was being kept at the apartment. The department said the species was generally only permitted in accredited zoos unless there was a special permit.

The pet store owner, Jean-Claude Savoie, told the Global News television station that he didn't hear a sound and discovered the "horrific scene" when he went into his living room on Monday morning. "I can't believe this is real," Savoie said.

He said the boys were the children of his best friend and were often at his apartment to visit his son. Savoie said the python, which he owned for at least 10 years, had been kept alone in its enclosure and was not handled by anyone else.

Noah and Connor Barthe, 4 and 6 years old, were found on the floor lifeless Tuesday morning in their neighbor's home in Campbellton, New Brunswick. The 99-pound African rock python at the focus of the investigation had apparently escaped from its glass enclosure into the ventilation system, falling through the ceiling into the area where the brothers were sleeping, according to police. The boys' mother had previously posted photos of the pair cleaning her neighbor's snake enclosure on her Facebook page.

African rock pythons are among the largest constrictor snakes, capable of growing up to 25 feet long.

Graziana said it might be difficult for a single victim to call for help if a constrictor begins to coil itself around. While the animals don't crush or break bones, he explained, they wrap tighter around a victim with each breath and can induce cardiac arrest.

"Every time the victim exhales, they tighten a little tighter so they can't inhale…you can't scream, you don't have the air in your lungs," he said.


"How that happens in a house, to two children, I just have a lot of questions," said Greg Graziana, a Florida python specialist who breeds ball pythons.

Snake experts say the two Canadian brothers killed by the African rock python represent an extremely rare case since the snakes do not hunt humans as prey. "I can tell you this is extremely rare."

Graziana and other experts agree that it's highly unusual for a constrictor to prey on any kind of primate because they are difficult to consume, but cases like this are not unheard of.

In 2002, a 20-foot-long African rock python killed and then swallowed a 10-year-old boy in Durban, South Africa. In 1999, a 7 1/2-foot-long pet African rock python in Centralia, Ill., strangled a three-year old boy to death. Possible food sources, such as the scent of rodents or rabbits on hands, could confuse a python and lead it to believe a human is a meal.

Professor Emily Taylor, director of a California Polytechnic State University lab that studies physiological ecology of reptiles, said that she, like "most snake experts," is "extremely surprised, even skeptical, that this tragic event could actually have happened."

What's criminal and sick is keeping wildlife in cages for human entertainment. The snake was imprisoned for 10 years and should be set free in his African habitat where he belongs.

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