On August 5th, Noah and Connor Barthe, two brothers under age 7, became victims of a horrifying tragedy when they were strangled by an African rock python. The children were spending the night with a family friend, Jean-Claude Savoie, in Campbellton, New Brunswick. Savoie kept an apartment above his exotic pet store, the Reptile Ocean. The snake, it is believed, escaped from its tank and made its way through the ventilator system, into the living room where the boys were sleeping. Noah and Connor’s lifeless bodies were discovered around 6:30 a.m. The 10-feet long, 100-pound reptile was euthanized and police have launched a criminal investigation.
This tragedy is shocking not just because of its randomness (according to The Humane Society, there have been only 12 snake-related deaths since 1990); it’s outrageous because it could have–and should have–been prevented. Why wasn’t the python properly contained? Surely Savoie was aware of the havoc such a large reptile could wreak–and if he wasn’t up to speed on the potential danger, he most certainly had no business handling and selling exotic pets. Safety should have been his top priority, especially given that children were under his care. Did he take all necessary precautions to insure the python couldn’t escape? Of course, it is still early in the investigation, but based on the evidence at hand, he did not, otherwise two young lives would not have been lost.
Another issue this debacle raises is why exotic animals were allowed to be sold inside a residential property in the first place; this put the entire community at risk (it was not made clear whether Savoie and his reptiles were the building’s sole occupants). According to Ian Comeau, the town’s deputy mayor, Reptile Ocean was fully licensed to operate; Savoie adhered to the provincial guidelines and bylaws. But perhaps this tragedy will demand a revision of Campbellton’s laws, with stricter policies put into place. Pythons are dangerous, and, in this case, deadly; it is impossible to treat them as an average pet, such as a rabbit or kitten. Chasing a toy or cuddling with the family is simply not in a python’s DNA. They’re predators, hazardous and unpredictable, and should be treated as such.
The death of a child is never anything less than gut-wrenching. What makes this situation particularly heinous is its preventability. It is unacceptable for children–or people of any age, for that matter–to be put in such a disastrous situation. The terror Connor and Noah must have gone through in their final minutes is difficult to imagine. While it is tough trying to spot a silver lining in this catastrophe, one can only hope measures will be taken to guarantee such an incident will never happen again.
Written By: Shamron Moore