Mysterious reptile deaths at Zoo Knoxville

Surviving animals in Zoo Knoxville's reptile complex were evacuated and given oxygen. Each unresponsive animal was checked for a heartbeat with ultrasound equipment.
Surviving animals in Zoo Knoxville's reptile complex were evacuated and given oxygen. Each unresponsive animal was checked for a heartbeat with ultrasound equipment.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Lab results found 34 reptiles deaths at Zoo Knoxville in March were most likely due to a toxic agent, but questions still surround the sudden deaths.

The animals were found dead in their cages by zoo keepers on March 22. All of the reptiles died in the zoo’s reptile complex. After the animal’s death, the decision was made to take the building out of use.

Previous story: Zoo Knoxville on the deaths of 33 reptiles: ‘It may remain a mystery to us’

The zoo said they are still not sure how the reptiles were poisoned. The blood of affected and unaffected animals was tested for multiple toxins and none were found, but veterinarians at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine determined swollen blood vessels and changes in the liver and heart of the animals were consistent with a toxic agent.

“We had hoped for a definitive answer to what happened so we can make sure it never occurs again,” said Zoo Knoxville President and CEO Lisa New. “Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to this situation and therefore we will not take the risk of housing animals in this building. While this does affect the number of animals we have on view in the short term, this will in no way impact the internationally recognized work our herpetologists do to save critically endangered reptiles. That will continue. If there is a positive to come from this, it is the affirmation that the conservation work we do is important to our community, and it strengthens our commitment and urgency to construct a new, state-of-the-art reptile education center as part of our current capital campaign.”

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.

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