In Brief
  • In a recent major loss, 33 reptiles at Zoo Knoxville mysteriously died overnight.
  • The zoo is trying to get to the bottom of this tragic incident, so it will not happen again.

Reptile in Peace

A zoo’s reptile house is often one of the most beloved attractions. The ability to get up close to some of the most feared creatures in the world is a tantalizing prospect for children and adults alike. That makes the latest news from a zoo in Knoxville, Tennessee all the more devastating.

A majority of the animals housed in the Zoo Knoxville’s main herpetology building were mysteriously killed overnight at some point between Tuesday and Wednesday of last week. All 52 animals were removed from the building where zoo employees worked with local university veterinarians to treat the animals. 33 of these animals died.

A snake from an unrelated zoo getting a physical. Holmes Palacios Jr./Flickr
A snake from an unrelated zoo getting a physical. Image Credit: Holmes Palacios Jr./Flickr

Endangered Species in Danger

The cause of this catastrophic loss is currently under investigation. Zoo Knoxville President and CEO Lisa New spoke with News Sentinel about what they know so far. She listed a wide variety of possible causes that have already been ruled out such as food contamination, gas leaks, disease or infection, or even a result of a “terrible storm” that occurred the night before.

The veterinarians, however, warned that they may never get to the bottom of this mystery. This is especially upsetting because, without a clear understanding behind such a tragic event, there is really no way to prevent it from happening again.

While the loss of these creatures in this unfortunate incident is enough to upset all animal lovers, of those lost, some belonged to three species categorized as critically endangered. A Louisiana pine snake, a Catalina Island rattlesnake, and an Aruba Island rattlesnake were all among the dead.

The zoo also mentioned that other threatened species were also killed, but they did not elaborate on the specifics.

“This is a devastating and catastrophic loss to our zoo,” says New. “These animals were important ambassadors who helped so many people understand the role snakes and lizards play in the balance of nature.”

Properly managed zoos across the world play an important part in species conservation. And, breeding animals in captivity can help to preserve their existence on Earth. And so, hopefully this event will allow veterinarians and scientists to better understand what these animals need in captivity so that they can continue to safely conserve species and educate.