- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

ZURICH (UPI) About 600 rare animals, including exotic snakes, reptiles and hedgehogs, were found frozen to death after they arrived in Zurich on an Air France flight from Madagascar.

The Zurich Zoo which, with the private-collections business the Zurich Reptile Center, had imported the animals asked Air France on Thursday to conduct an inquiry into the deaths and to ensure such an incident does not occur again. The reptile center is threatening to sue the airline.

"It is not about the money we lost in the death of these animals," said Robert Zingg, curator of Zurich Zoo. "We are concerned about what happened to these animals during the flight. What really went wrong?"

The dead animals are all found only on Madagascar. Some of them were to be housed in the zoo, and others were meant for the reptile center's private collectors. Air France said an inquiry had been ordered into the incident.

Martin Schreiber, director of the reptile center, had traveled to Madagascar to arrange for the packing of the animals. He said the airline did not follow his instructions.

Mr. Schreiber was quoted by le Matin, a daily from Lausanne, France, as saying that when he opened the shipment the animals had an average body temperature of 57 degrees Fahrenheit, much lower than it should have been.

Twelve hundred creatures survived but were in poor condition when he discovered them after the cargo's arrival in Zurich, the Associated Press reported.

The animals, all legally imported, were flown out of Madagascar on Feb. 7.

Mr. Schreiber said he had received no apology from Air France but had received an e-mail suggesting that the damage to the animals occurred during a 3½-hour stopover in Paris.

Air France said that typically it would have sent the animals for a veterinary check but that it was not done in this case, as the "customer specifically asked us to speed up the transportation and put animals on the earliest flight."

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