(WBIR- Knoxville) It's been almost a year since the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency seized more than 50 venomous snakes from a snake-handling pastor.
Last November, TWRA cited LaFollette Pastor Andrew Hamblin for using copperheads, rattlesnakes, and other venomous snakes to practice his faith at Tabernacle Church of God.
The zoo took possession of the snakes, but zoo keepers said all the snakes died or they had to euthanize them because they were in poor health. The babies were especially bad.
"They were never given a water bowl, they were never given enough humidity, and they were never even offered food. These older animals, you could tell they were freshly wild caught as well," said Michael Ogle with the Knoxville Zoo.
Zoo officials said the snakes never adapted to captivity. Once they arrived at the zoo, they either died or had to be euthanized due to their poor health.
"We saved them in the freezer as evidence and then once the case was resolved, they unfortunately kept staying in the freezer until someone had the bright idea to call Dr. Wallace here," Ogle said.
Dr. Steven Wallace is from ETSU and is taking the frozen snakes to the Gray Fossil Site where students will use them for research.
"We'll probably have student skin them and de-flesh them as much as possible," Dr. Wallace said. "It will be a learning experience. They can learn the soft tissue anatomy of the animal."
Dr. Wallace said students for hundreds of years will be looking at the skeletons of the snakes. This class, however, will also be doing a lot of hands on learning when it comes to venom, something they couldn't do before.
"It's not easy to get venomous snakes. We are typically going to get your standard garden variety snakes. It's one that someone might have killed in your back yard or it was run over by a car. So it's always good to get these things, they just are a lot harder to come by," Dr. Wallace said.
Zoo officials said they are happy something good is coming out of a sad situation.
"It does give a scientific use for them. It gives them a purpose. It gives them a meaning that they are going to the Gray Fossil Museum and they are going to have a purpose in teaching folks for decades to come," Ogle said.
A grand jury voted not to indict Hamblen for having dangerous animals.
However in June, the building owner of Hamblin's church tabernacle Church of God evicted his congregation. The owner said too many people were getting hurt and dying.