Knoxville Zoo officials are investigating why 33 reptiles, including three endangered species, died Wednesday.
Herpetologists came to work that morning to find a majority of the 52 animals housed in one of the reptile buildings dead. They immediately evacuated the snakes and lizards, giving them oxygen and checking their heartbeats with an ultrasound device.
"This is a devastating and catastrophic loss to our zoo," Lisa New, president at the zoo, told the Knoxville News Sentinel Saturday. "These animals were important ambassadors who helped so many people understand the role snakes and lizards play in the balance of nature."
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Veterinarians from the zoo as well as from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine are investigating the cause of death.
“We also lost breeding programs for several endangered and threatened species,” she added. “It is especially difficult for our herpetologists who have dedicated their careers to caring for and advocating for these animals.”
Three critically endangered species died; the Louisiana pine snake, the Catalina Island rattlesnake and the Aruba Island rattlesnake. The zoo’s forest cobra and albino Eastern diamondback rattlesnake also died.
"We don't know exactly what occurred to cause this terrible event, but we do know it was isolated to a single building," the zoo said in a post on Facebook. "We are continuing to investigate all the physical systems and conducting necropsies to see if we can gain any insight."