Snakes seized from serpent-handling pastor are euthanized

All of the snakes that were confiscated from a serpent-handling pastor in Campbell County have now been euthanized.

TWRA seized 55 poisonous snakes from Andrew Hamlin in November. He handled the snakes as part of worship services at the Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette. Hamlin was cited for having animal dangerous to humans, but a grand jury did not indict him on criminal charges.

The confiscated snakes were taken to the Knoxville Zoo, but were in such poor condition, they could not be saved.

According to Michael Ogle, Curator of Herpetology at the Knoxville Zoo, "The 14 remaining snakes are highly suspected of being infected with the same pathogens that have proven fatal for the other 39 snakes brought to us from Campbell County. This is due to the overcrowded conditions they were being kept in prior to their arrival at Knoxville Zoo. There is no successful treatment for these pathogens, which could be fatal for any other snakes, captive or wild, that might be exposed to them. Unfortunately, due to this risk, we cannot safely bring them into a captive conservation program or release them into a wild population. Additionally, the longer we house these snakes, the greater the risk we expose our collection to these pathogens, which could be catastrophic for our animals."

TWRA, the Knoxville Zoo, and UT's College of Veterinary Medicine worked together to determine what was best for the snakes' welfare. They had hoped to place the copperheads at the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, but their condition made that impossible.

"Unfortunately, most of the snakes were emaciated and several had severe skin and respiratory infections. In addition, many of the snakes were very sick with a variety of parasites, and some of the parasites are untreatable," said Dr. Ed Ramsay, professor of zoological medicine at the UT College of Veterinary Medicine.

TWRA, with the help of the District Attorney General's Office, had a court order giving them ownership of the snakes. TWRA officials gave the order on Monday to euthanize the remaining snakes.

Dr. Juergen Schumacher, a colleague of Dr. Ramsay at the UTCVM, had also recently examined the snakes and concurred that the snakes should be euthanized.

"The snakes' welfare has been the top priority since day one and we support the professional decisions of the veterinarians and the Zoo's experts," said TWRA Sgt. Joe Durnin who handled the case for the agency.


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