Two Boys Strangled To Death In Their Sleep By Escaped Python

200px-Python_sebae_head2aWe often discuss the strict liability rule governing wild animals in tort law. This morning Canada is dealing with a tragic and bizarre case in which two young boys — aged five and seven — were killed by a python that escaped a pet store and slithered through their ventilation system into their room. Reptile Ocean owner Jean-Claude Savoie lives above the store and was hosting the two boys for a sleepover with his own son who was unhurt.

Savoie found the boys dead in the morning. His own son was unharmed in an adjoining room. The snake is an African rock python and kills by constricting its victims.

It appears to have escaped it enclosure during the night and found the ventilation system. It then proceeded to strangle the boys to death.

In 2009, the province of New Brunswick relaxed rules to allow a wider variety of snakes, lizards and other exotic pets to be sold and kept.

240px-Python_natalensis_G._J._AlexanderReptile Ocean’s Facebook page was shutdown after someone posted a statement criticizing people who were leaving angry messages and saying that commenters should “be ashamed of themselves” for blaming the store.

In the United States, the first issue would be the classification of the snake as either wild or domesticated. If considered wild (which I would presume), the store would be strictly liable.

If it were considered domesticated (perhaps due to a showing of animus revertendi or “habit of return”), the store would still be likely liable but would be subject to a negligence standard. The escape of the snake suggests obvious negligence. The question would be whether the use of the ventilation system was so unforeseeable as to cut off liability as a matter of proximate causation. I would think it was clearly foreseeable that a snake would slither to a cool dark surface like a ventilation system.

I can only imagine what these parents and the owner are experiencing this week in the grief that follows such a tragedy. The cause of death is truly nightmarish. The police are conducting a criminal investigation, presumably looking at a form of criminal negligence or manslaughter that does not require intent. There could also be charges based on the violation of public laws governing public safety or animal maintenance. Civil liability could also follow. None of this will of course bring anything close to solace for the parents, but many people want answers on how such a tragedy could occur.

Source: CBC

22 thoughts on “Two Boys Strangled To Death In Their Sleep By Escaped Python”

  1. nick spinelli, Sharks are in trouble, they’re being over hunted for sport and food. Things like Shark Week don’t help IMO. Wild Kingdom would last about 4 episodes before being cancelled these days, too dry. But I did enjoy it.

    I found the following quote in Wikipedia and it tickled me. I liked Marlin Perkins, he was a self-made man and was out tramping around in jungles and on safari for live critters as a zoologist back in the day when it took manly men to do that sort of thing. The St. Louis zoo was a pit but suffered from the attitude of the time regarding zoos and their animals and a lack of funding that went on for decades after the attitude changed. It’s a much, much better zoo now. In any event, I read this and had to laugh out loud, it seems perfectly in character:

    “Because Walt Disney had fabricated footage of a mass suicide of lemmings in its film White Wilderness,[5] then CBC journalist Bob McKeown asked Marlin Perkins if he had done the same. Perkins, then in his seventies, “firmly asked for the camera to be turned off, then punched a shocked McKeown in the face. [6]”

  2. This story makes no sense. My guess is the boys were killed when a 100 pound snake fell out of the ceiling onto them. That the snake strangled them just doesn’t make sense. That said, the keeping of wild animals like this as pets is ridiculous.

  3. A herpetologist interviewed on BBC was very skeptical of the stated scenario. He claimed that pythons generally kill only to eat, and that the suffocation process is slow enough that the boys would have been able to cry out. Presumably autopsy results will be illuminating.

  4. Remember, Florida has very large Acondas on the loose. If that Aconda could swallow an alligator then pets and kidz are just horderves. If that snake was that hungry……..which child was the horderve?

  5. Lotta,

    You bring up much more pleasant memories than this story….

  6. Lottakatz@ 11:03pm wrote

    even little people need secure cages.

    run oompa loompa’s run 🙂

  7. lotta, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was one of my favorite shows. I too love animal shows. Not the wacky ones, but the well done shows w/o the hype. This is Shark Week on tv. Our fear of sharks is so out of proportion it is insanity. That’s the downside of these shows, playing on fear.

  8. I would watch Wild Kingdom on TV. I liked Marlin Perkins (who was the Director of the St. Lois Zoo for some years) and liked animals so Wild Kingdom was a must-watch TV show. Perkins and his assistant, Jim Fowler, an esteemed zoologist in his own right, were cool. Fowler was younger than Perkins by 30 years or so Fowler so did a lot of the back-work on the show. If they went to Africa to check out the Hyenas and someone ended up having to wrestle a Hyena they were trying to capture on camera, it was Jim. This became more so the case as the show and the hosts aged. But they were both cool, very cool under pressure.

    The one show I remember, really remember was when they were in South America somewhere looking for snakes. They found a pretty big constrictor longer than a person is tall and Jim’s job was to restrain it for the camera. Both he and Perkins were standing in a river with Perkins, who was doing the narration slightly in front of Jim Fowler.

    The snake began to wrap itself around Fowler and constrict itself, pinning one of his arms, which he freed and then the snake continued to look for purchase. It got out of hand, seriously out of hand. Fowler started out looking worried but was grimacing because of the pressure the snake was putting on him including trying to wrap completely around his chest and maybe his neck.

    Marlin Perkins was just doing his commentary and couldn’t see Fowler because he was in front of him and to one side. Fowler said something to the effect that he needed a hand with the snake and it didn’t look like Perkins heard him. Fowler had to ask again and his tone was strained because he was laboring with the snake. Fowler was looking concerned in the extreme and losing the battle. Perkins helped him get unwrapped and even used that as a teachable moment about how such snakes kill their prey.

    It was a nice recovery but it was a tense few minutes and Fowler was in distress but attempting to look professional and in control. I was really concerned watching it because It was dramatic as hell and not staged, it was more frightening than it should ever have been. I like snakes, had a snake for some good while, know people that had snakes for years but I never saw the attraction to big constrictors. Not after that episode of Wild Kingdom.

  9. My guess is that the boys liked snakes and did not realize the danger. A python will usually strike and then quickly wrap coils around its prey. With humans, it is usually not trying to eat them, so sometimes they don’t strike but just start coiling around them. But these boys were small, so they might have been perceived to be prey. Once the snake starts to squeeze, you can’t scream because as you start to exhale, the snake squeezes tighter, and when you try to inhale, you can’t, so then you try to exhale to get that big breath, but the snake squeezes even tighter, so then you can be suffocated without being able to say a word. It is not the fast action of the snake, but the constant suffocation and inability to draw a deep breath to scream.

  10. It’s like a Hollywood horror movie come to life…My heart goes out to the boys family. I can’t imagine what they are going through.

  11. Dear God! How horrible! I have a phobia when it comes to snakes…they give me the creeps. I just keep wondering if the first child was unable to cry out…and wake the other child…is the constriction fast and swift? Anybody know?

  12. Snakes that have enough force to crush people- even little people need secure cages. A good sized constrictor can break a big aquarium and escape using force alone. They are evolved to apply force to get what they need, it’s all they do.

    I went to a zoo member event and we got to see some big snakes but it was stated in passing by one of the docents that one of the reasons there were signs all over the exhibit hall not to tap on the glass, especially around the big snakes, is because if you startle them or/and agitate them they could break the habitat glass and get out. I believe that was explicitly stated on some of the signs. Not necessarily to get at you, just to move away from the disturbance. These were big glass-fronted cages with thick glass.

    An aquarium with a screen top with a largish rock (or several) weighing it down, which is all too common in pet stores, just isn’t good enough.

    How well the shop owner had the livestock secured based on type, size etc. may well come into play regarding a court case but ultimately, wild or domesticated (you can’t domesticate a snake), whatever, it wasn’t well enough. Not by a long-shot.

  13. OS,
    Thanks for not including the blown up snake picture! I haven’t had my breakfast yet! 🙂
    Very sad story and I feel for the parents. I have to agree that keeping these kind of dangerous animals is just asking for trouble. Unfortunately that trouble included the death of two young boys.

  14. I wouldn’t have allowed my children to stay overnight in a home with snakes or with purveyors of snakes. Similarly, I don’t allow my children to stay in homes with guns in them.

  15. These animals grow to enormous size and will eat just about anything. I saw a photograph recently of a snake that tried to eat a medium size alligator in Florida. It had killed the alligator by squeezing it, then tried to swallow the gator. The snake exploded. I won’t link to the photo because it it too ugly and graphic.

  16. I was in Toronto in November 2006. News at the time was a python that appeared in an apartment from the ventilation system with no known origin.

  17. There is probably no real post hoc solution once a fast-breeding non-native predator species has been introduced into an ecosystem. However, people who continue to import these creatures need their collective heads examined. A snake is a reptile with a reptile brain. To think a snake can be “domesticated” is ludicrious on the face of it. Additionally, these animals grow to sizes where they cannot be kept by an indivdual family–at least not safely. Human nature being what it is, the owner then releases it into the wild instead of killing it. Shelters may be too distant, too crowded, ot too much trouble, so there literally is no place for the animal to go.

    As a parent, I certainly feel for the parents who lost their children. I can think of an analogy to a gun store owner who leaves the door unlocked at night, robbers come in and then commit a crime with the unsecured stolen guns. No doubt there is tort liability here. It now is a matter of what the local prosecutor decides to present to the Grand Jury.

    Then by comparison, we see another state have a swat team raid on an animal shelter in order to kill a fawn deer. Go figure!

  18. I read about this morning and felt the horror these parents are feeling. Of course, their horror is very real, mine merely empathetic.

    We all have different tastes, interests, etc. That is what makes the world interesting for me @ least. That said, there are interests I simply don’t get. Having dangerous exotic animals is one of them. I’ve known two men who have owned pythons. There’s a guy on the boardwalk in San Diego who walks around showing off the python, AND HIMSELF. The common thread w/ the these three men that I see is they are all “look @ me, I’m cool,” jerks. Certainly not a conclusive study but that’s all I got.

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