Over 82,000 snake specimens, a collection considered the largest one of tropical serpents in the world were destroyed in a fire, together with thousands of other reptiles, spiders and scorpions at Brazil’s prestigious Butantan Institute laboratory in Sao Paulo.
“There were 77,000 classified serpents and another 5,000 in the process. All knowledge of Brazil was there – 100 years of history,” Brazilian scientist Francisco Franco, curator of the collection, said in a statement to reporters.
The fire broke out Saturday morning and was doused by fire fighters just 1½ hours later without any human casualties.
The whole building was consumed by flames from an upper floor, while inside the thousands of reptiles preserved in formalin for scientific experiments were reduced to ashes.
Fire fighters suspect that the cause of the disaster could have been a short circuit, though the investigation will take several weeks.
Founded in 1901, the Butantan Institute, an agency of the São Paulo regional government, has been a center for producing vaccines and an important unit for biomedical research.
The laboratory was working on a number of projects based on different types of reptile venom, which were being tested as treatments for such ailments as leishmaniasis and Chagas disease.
Recently the Butantan has also been the public agency charged with developing the vaccine against the H1N1 swine flu virus in Brazil from a sample provided by France’s Sanofi Pasteur laboratory.