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Zoo Knoxville mystified by 32 reptiles' deaths

USA Today Network Amy McRary, Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel 8:01 p.m. ET March 27, 2017

CLOSE Zoo Knoxville mystified by 32 reptiles' deaths
Zoo Knoxville mystified by 32 reptiles' deaths

Zoo Knoxville President and CEO Lisa New speaks Monday, March 27, about what the zoo knows about the 32 reptiles who died at the zoo March 21-22. Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel

Zoo Knoxville Reptiles 5.JPG

A remaining Aruba Island rattlesnake at Zoo Knoxville on Monday, March 27, 2017. An Aruba Island rattlesnake was among the 32. (Photo: BRIANNA PACIORKA/NEWS SENTINEL)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Zoo Knoxville officials Monday were listing what they did — and did not — know about the sudden deaths of 32 snakes and other reptiles, including several endangered species. But the deaths remained a mystery that doctors warn may never be solved.

The 32 reptiles died in an "environmental" event some time between 5 p.m. ET March 21 and 8 a.m. March 22 in one of the herpetology buildings at the park in East Knoxville. Thirty-one snakes and lizards, including a blue-tongued skink and a Gila monster, were found dead when zookeepers arrived at 8 a.m. March 22.

A sau python died later despite efforts to revive it with oxygen.


The dead animals were sent to the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine for necropsies, which are autopsies on animals. Blood was taken from the dead animals, the building's survivors and from snakes in other unaffected buildings. The results of the necropsies and blood work are expected in one to two weeks.

Based on what they know so far, zoo officials say they believe the deaths happened because of a sudden change in the reptiles' environment.

The zoo has eliminated some potential causes for that change, but Zoo President and CEO Lisa New said veterinarians warned her "we may never know" what happened.


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"The vets have told me to anticipate and prepare myself that we might never know because it happened so acutely and to so many at once, indicating it was such a fast event that it might not show up in their tissue levels," New said.

The dead reptiles included a forest cobra and albino Eastern diamondback rattlesnake, both popular with zoo visitors. Members of three critically endangered species — the Louisiana pine snake, Catalina Island rattlesnake and Aruba Island rattlesnake — died. The deaths of the endangered snakes hinder the zoo's breeding programs but the facility has other snakes of those species, Zoo Director of Animal Collections and Conservation Phil Colclough said.

Other dead reptiles included a lined flat-tail gecko, four Western African Gaboon vipers and several species of boas and pythons.

The 19 surviving animals included some other snakes, lizards, some poisonous tree frogs, a bog turtle and a baby radiated tortoise. It appears that tortoise eggs in incubators weren't harmed, New said.

Initial reports listed 33 dead animals. But the 33rd — a tiny yellow-headed poisonous dart frog — was later found in his habitat.

The surviving animals were evacuated from the building that includes both small exhibit and off-exhibit areas. The 1,400-square-foot building, built in 1974 but maintained and up to standards, has been closed pending the investigation. Other


Uganda's open-door policy sags amid crush of refugees from South Sudan

Tonny Onyulo, Special for USA TODAY 7:14 p.m. ET March 27, 2017


Pauline Nyaluok, 43, a South Sudanese refugee, stands with two of her children at the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in northern Uganda. She lost two other children on the way to the camp. (Photo: Tonny Onyulo)

BIDI BIDI REFUGEE CAMP, Uganda — Two of her five children died as Pauline Nyaluok navigated her way from war-torn South Sudan to this refugee camp in northern Uganda where she expected to be welcomed with open arms.

Uganda is celebrated around the world for its generosity toward those desperately fleeing violence. Unlike other East African nations like Kenya, where refugees are restricted to camps, Uganda in the past gave refugees land to farm and build a home, plus free health care and education.

But a three-year civil war has sent 700,000 South Sudanese refugees fleeing, many to their southern neighbor. Refugees also are escaping violence in nearby countries such as Burundi. That is putting pressure on camps in Uganda, which can't provide enough shelter, food, water and medical care, leaving the most vulnerable struggling to survive.

“I haven’t eaten anything for a week now,” said Nyaluok, 43, while holding her 2-year-old. “There’s not enough food, water and toilets. I have been skipped twice for a monthly allotment of grains, because of the huge number of people living here. My children are feeling very hungry, and I have nowhere to live.”

A year ago, only a few huts dotted the northern Ugandan town of Bidi Bidi. Today, more than 200,000 South Sudanese refugees live there, according to the United Nations. The camp — now one of the largest refugee settlements in the world — opened last summer after a new round of clashes erupted in South Sudan.

People wait in line for food at the Bidi Bidi refugee

People wait in line for food at the Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda on Feb 22, 2017.   (Photo: Dan Kitwood, Getty Images)

“We don't have enough food to feed all the refugees, and some are getting half rations of corn meal and beans,” said Apollo Kazungu, a Ugandan commissioner in charge of refugees. “We are very hospitable as a country, and our people are friendly to refugees. But allocating them plots (of land) may not be possible if they continue to arrive daily due to violence. We are now building dormitories for them.”

Kazungu said the government is set to build three more refugee settlement camps in northern Uganda to house more South Sudanese refugees, but the situation is dire. The U.N. refugee agency recently said South Sudan's fighting has created the third largest refugee crisis, after Syria's civil war and Afghanistan's chronic conflict.

“The people of South Sudan are suffering, as we’ve seen by the record numbers that have fled to Uganda and other neighboring countries in recent weeks,” said Bornwell Kantande, the U.N. refugee agency’s representative to Uganda.

At the Bidi Bidi camp, 64% of the new arrivals are children, and around 20% are women. Many people still have bullet wound scars from the fighting in their home country.



Gallup: Trump's approval rating hits another low

Gallup: Trump's approval rating hits another low

President Donald Trump speaks during a bill signing ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House March 27, 2017 in Washington, D.C.


Turbulent times: The leggings debate makes us so uncomfortable

Editors, USA TODAY Published 5:52 p.m. ET March 27, 2017 | Updated 31 minutes ago


Woman wear blank leggings mockup, black, white, isolated on grey. (Photo: AlexandrBognat, Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Stretchy leggings meet stiff airline rules

Jeans? Check. Sweatshirt? Check. Leggings? Depends. United Airlines found itself in quite the predicament over the weekend after it stopped young girls wearing leggings from boarding a flight with “ buddy passes ,” which allow family and friends of airline employees to fly for free — so long as you follow their rules. Odds are you’ll never have to worry about your get-up while flying, and the company said regular customers are welcome to wear leggings or yoga pants. But that didn't stop some celebrities from  blasting the dress code  on Twitter, which featured a  picture  of William Shatner in red, skin-tight pants. Good thing he wasn’t trying to board a flight, too.

CLOSE Turbulent times: The leggings debate makes us so uncomfortable
Turbulent times: The leggings debate makes us so uncomfortable

United Airlines is under siege on Twitter after airline employees reportedly stopped two young girls from boarding because they were wearing leggings. USA TODAY

The tech battle between privacy and security ensnares WhatsApp

London police say a message sent via WhatsApp by terror attacker Khalid Masood could hold vital clues to the case . The problem: Authorities can't access the message because of encryption. On WhatsApp, only the sender and recipient can see its contents. Not even WhatsApp can see the message, which means police need to gain access to the phones involved.  The situation echoes last year's drama when the FBI pushed Apple to unlock an iPhone used by the terrorist couple that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif.

CLOSE Turbulent times: The leggings debate makes us so uncomfortable
Turbulent times: The leggings debate makes us so uncomfortable

Minutes Before the London terror attacker carried out the deadly rampage near Westminster Bridge, he used this app to communicate with an unknown contact. Susana Victoria Perez (@susana_vp) has more Buzz60

Regrets, Joe Biden has a few

The big one: not becoming the 45th president of the United States (reminder: it's Donald Trump). During a lecture series at Colgate University in New York, the former vice president not only admitted he'd planned to run for president, but that he thinks he could have trounced both Hillary Clinton and Trump. "Although it would have been a very difficult primary, I think I could have won," said Biden. But after losing his son, Beau, to brain cancer, he said he “lost part of my soul” and didn’t have it in him to endure the campaign.

Yep, Sin City hit the NFL jackpot

The Raiders — a team that often sparks fear and loathing among opponents — are taking their act to Las Vegas. The NFL owners approved the team's request to leave Oakland in favor of Las Vegas . Oakland hosted the Raiders from 1960 to 1982, then welcomed them back in 1995 after a stint in Los Angeles. They're the third NFL team to clear the way for relocation in the last 14 months. During that time, St. Louis and San Diego said goodbye to their teams — the Rams and Chargers — while L.A. went from


Here's why the Senate's 'nuclear option' might be key to Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court confirmation

GTY 633295452 A POL USA DC

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell meets with Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on Feb. 1, 2017, at the Capitol. (Photo: Alex Wong, Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate may be about to "go nuclear" to ensure that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is confirmed.

With Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urging his colleagues to block an up-or-down vote on Gorsuch, Republican leaders are considering using the "nuclear option" to change Senate rules so the judge can be confirmed without the support of a single Democratic senator.

The Senate is expected to vote on Gorsuch next week.

It starts with "cloture" and "filibuster"

Senate procedure requires an agreement to move any issue to the floor for a vote. If some senators — or even one senator — object, they can just keep talking to delay a vote. That's a filibuster. To stop a filibuster, 60 senators have to vote to stop the filibuster. That's called a "cloture" vote. If they can't get 60 votes for cloture, the Senate can't schedule a vote on the underlying issue.

What is the "nuclear option"?

It is a Senate rule that strips the minority party of the power to use a filibuster to block confirmation of a presidential nominee; instead of 60 votes, supporters need only 51 to confirm the nominee.

Is the nuclear option already being used in the Senate?

Yes. In 2013, then-Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., persuaded his fellow Democrats to approve the rule change because he was frustrated that Republicans kept blocking President Obama's judicial nominees. The move was denounced by Republicans as a power grab by the Democrats. The change allowed the majority party to confirm Cabinet secretaries and federal court judges without any support from the minority, and without a cloture vote. However, there was one big exception: It did NOT apply to Supreme Court nominees.

Can Democrats use a filibuster to block Trump's nominee?

Yes. Under current Senate rules, the nuclear option does not apply to Supreme Court nominees, which are still subject to a filibuster by the minority party, and the majority needs 60 votes to stop the filibuster. Schumer has vowed to filibuster Gorsuch.

Can Republicans invoke the nuclear option to confirm Trump's nominee?

Yes. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could expand the nuclear option to apply to Supreme Court nominees. That would give Republicans — who hold 52 seats in the Senate — the power to easily confirm Trump's choice. Democrats would no longer be able to use a filibuster to block confirmation.

How would Republicans change the rules?

McConnell could schedule a vote to change the existing rule and apply the nuclear option to Trump's Supreme Court nominee. He would need only a simple majority of 51 senators to approve that rule change.

Will Republicans do that?

That's the big question. So far, McConnell has refused to say. However, the majority leader has made statements declaring that Trump's choice will definitely be confirmed, leading to speculation that he will invoke the nuclear option to ensure that his prediction comes true. But

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