The African rock python captured after two young children were killed in the New Brunswick community of Campbellton was not registered and could not legally be kept as a pet, according to information released by provincial officials on Tuesday.
The revelation came after RCMP confirmed a criminal investigation was being held into the death of two children – Noah Barthe, 5, and Connor Barthe, 7, who died after a four-metre python got loose in a home where they were sleeping.
It is believed they were strangled by the snake. An autopsy was being conducted on Tuesday.
The brothers were staying in a family friend’s apartment, located on the second floor above a local pet store owned by the friend. It was previously believed the python escaped from the pet store and made its way into the apartment above.
On Tuesday, however RCMP Sgt. Alain Tremblay confirmed the python had been kept in an enclosure inside the apartment. It is now believed the massive snake made its way to the top of the enclosure and entered the ventilation system, before falling through the roof into the living room, where the children were sleeping.
Tremblay confirmed that the snake was captured and euthanized, confirming that the creature to be an African rock python.
That breed is not included on the province’s Exotic Wildlife Registry, meaning it would be illegal to own such a creature in New Brunswick.“The African rock python is not an allowed species in New Brunswick,” confirmed a spokesperson for New Brunswick’s Department of Natural Resources. Another spokesperson confirmed the province never issues permits “to keep an illegal exotic animal as a pet.”
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Jean-Claude Savoie, the owner of the Reptile Ocean pet store, told Global News he found the python in his apartment on Monday morning, after the two children had died.
“I thought they were sleeping until I [saw] the hole in the ceiling. I turned the lights on and I [saw] this horrific scene,” he told the network. “[The snake] went through a ventilation system. I don’t understand how it did it. It went through the ceiling…and the snake fell through the living room from the ceiling.”
It appears Reptile Ocean was the subject of previous complains, and the city's public protective services said it will investigate the matter.
An "unsatisfied customer" previously launched a "Shut Down Reptile Ocean" petition, gathered 185 online signatures in five months, before the petition shut down.
The petition alleges that the pets are kept in deplorable conditions, with overcrowded and dirty pens, sickly and dying animals and uninterested staff.
The author also writes about buying a snake from the shop that would not eat and, they later learned, had a broken back.
"The way his animals are treated is not right," the petition reads. "And I will fight against them till something is done. Sick animals should not be around healthy ones. They should not even be up for adoption. I am disgusted by that place and will no longer step a feet in there ever again."
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Campbellton deputy mayor Ian Comeau told CBC News the city did not receive the complaints at the time they were made, but they would be checking into it now that it has come to light.
Campbellton bylaws allow for a "zoo" at Reptile Ocean, although it is unclear whether having an apartment above the store is up to standard.
New Brunswick relaxed its laws about reptile ownership in 2009, allowing the sale of non-poisonous snakes up to three-metres long. Elsewhere in the country, python ownership laws are a patchwork of rules and regulations.
The B.C. government strengthened its wildlife laws in 2010 to outlaw the ownership of any snake longer than three metres in length. Snakes under than length require a permit to keep as pets.
Earlier this year, Manitoba passed new reptile pet bylaws banning the ownership of large lizards as well as venomous snakes (even if they are de-venomized), and any pythons or anaconda longer than two metres.
Alberta similarly bans the ownership of various types of large snakes, including African pythons like the one believed to be involved in the New Brunswick incident.
But in most cases, exceptions to the rule are available. And in Ontario, the bylaws are left in the hands of various cities, making it even more complicated.
Melissa Matlow, spokeswoman for the World Society for the Protection of Animals in Canada, told Yahoo! Canada News that the patchwork of rules does not go far enough and that pythons should be banned outright.
Don’t expect the debate over python ownership to go away quietly. The sudden and terrible death of children so young will have the public questioning the benefits of keeping such cold-blooded creatures as pets.But before we get to law changes, a town will mourn. Noah and Connor Barthe were taken from their family far too soon, in random and chaotic fashion.
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