Two boys strangled by python that escaped from Canadian exotic pet shop
Snake escaped through ventilation shaft from enclosure to room where boys were sleeping
Royal Canadian Mounted Police work at the scene of a fatal python attack at Reptile Ocean exotic pet store in Campbellton, New Brunswick. Two young boys were killed by a snake as they slept in an apartment above the store. Photograph: The Canadian Press/AP
A 45kg python blamed for the deaths by strangulation of two Canadian boys apparently escaped from its pet shop enclosure, slithered through a ventilation system and fell through a ceiling into the room where the young brothers were sleeping, the shop’s owner has said.
Postmortem examinations on the brothers, who were aged five and seven, were due to be performed late yesterday. Stephanie Bernatchez, a friend of a friend of the boys’ mother, identified the children as Noah and Connor Barthe.
“We’re all overwhelmed here,” Ms Bernatchez said. “They could have been hit by a car, but a snake? That’s not something people around here expect.”
The boys had been visiting the apartment of a friend above an exotic pet shop in Campbellton, New Brunswick, Royal Canadian Mounted Police constable Julie Rogers-Marsh said.
She said the snake apparently escaped during the night and made its way into the apartment through the ventilation system. A friend of the boys was sleeping in another room and was unharmed, she said.
The pet shop owner, Jean-Claude Savoie, told the Global News television station he did not hear a sound and discovered the “horrific scene” when he went into his living room, where the two boys had been sleeping, on Monday morning. “I can’t believe this is real,” Mr Savoie said.
The boys were the children of his best friend and were often at his apartment to visit his son, Mr Savoie said. The python, which he has had for at least 10 years, had been kept alone in its enclosure and was not handled by anyone else, he added.
The snake was about 4.3m long, Sgt Alain Tremblay said. He said police were looking at whether the shop followed the province’s regulations on exotic animals.
“It’s a criminal investigation,” he said. “We’re going to look at all avenues.”
The town’s deputy mayor, Ian Comeau, said the Reptile Ocean shop was licensed to operate and “everything was according to our bylaws, to the provincial guidelines”. He said he saw alligators, crocodiles and snakes when he toured the shop with the fire department about two years ago.
Snake expert John Kendrick, a manager at the Reptile Store in Hamilton, Ontario, said it sounds like the python was not enclosed properly and might have been spooked. He called the strangling deaths “very unusual” but said African rock pythons tend to be highly strung.
“It’s very odd that one would go out and seek out a person. They don’t recognise us as food,” he said.
It is possible that the python was just holding on to what it landed on, Mr Kendrick said.
Pythons can sense heat, and if they are startled they can grab something, he added. He said snakes are very long and their muscles run lengthwise through their body, so they are not very stable unless they are holding on to something.
“A snake that size was just trying to hold on securely enough to make sure he felt like he wasn’t falling or going anywhere; he has enough muscle power to cut off circulation,” he said.
“Once they are in constricting mode, any part of their body that is touching something that moves, they’ll wrap it. I’ve seen snakes with two different prey items at the same time, one with the back of the body and one with the front. It could have been an incident like that.