Reptile specialists are continuing their uphill efforts to nurse more than 170 malnourished and ill snakes back to health after they were pulled from a house in Santa Ana where a grade school teacher lived amid a clutter of mice, rats and pythons – many of them dead.
Since being rescued from the home, 11 of the snakes have died, bringing the total to 235.
Jason Haywood, president of the Southern California Herpetology Assn. and Rescue, said most of the snakes died of liver failure on the first night.
But about 173 pythons are alive and more than 70 of those may soon start a normal feeding cycle, Haywood said.
Sam S. Makki, director of Reptile Rescue Orange County, whose nonprofit organization is helping with treatment efforts, said some snakes would need to hydrate first before they could start eating food.
“We’re going to cross our fingers and hope everything goes well for them.” Makki said. “But I have a good feeling many of the animals will do good.”
Santa Ana police officers discovered the exotic snakes while serving a search warrant at Fernwood Drive home of William Buckman, a 6th-grade teacher in Newport Beach who was arrested on suspicion of animal cruelty.
For months, neighbors had complained about a foul smell drifting from the five-bedroom house.
“We thought someone was dead,” said Forest Long Sr. 52, who lives next door. “We couldn’t open up the bedroom windows. My wife started to gag and throw up.”
Investigators had visited the home but didn’t observe any of the conditions they saw Wednesday.
Authorities alleged that Buchman had left his car at a nearby park and walked home to avoid investigators.
Wearing gas masks and holding Tasers, animal control officers pulled out more than 400 of the nonvenomous snakes from the home.
Buchman is identified in various reptile collector websites as a ball python breeder.
Authorities alleged that when Buchman’s mother died in 2011, he appeared to have gone from hobbyist to hoarder.
“It’s pretty sad,” said Sondra Berg, Santa Ana Police Department animal services supervisor. “Hoarding is pretty much a mental condition. They need help.”
The pythons were kept in clear plastic containers with labels reading “pastel reaper,” “cinny ghost” and “orange belly.”
Four of the bedrooms were filled with racks, each holding 30 to 40 snakes. There was also no evidence of food or water in any of the cages, authorities said.
Nearly 50 rats and mice roamed freely inside the home too.
Animal rescue workers said they’re looking for donations, such as paper towels, rubber gloves, sterilizing equipment and money for medical bills.
According Haywood’s nonprofit group, the city of Santa Ana will seek restitution from Buchman for the cost of the medical expenses.
A spokesman for the city of Santa Ana could not be reached for comment.
Haywood said when the snakes make a full recovery they will not be sold or given to breeders.
“They’ve been through a lot,” he said.
He said the plan is to auction the snakes to classrooms, nature centers and other educational organizations.