A harmless tree snake discovered on a north-east vessel was killed after it was mistaken for a lethal African reptile, it has emerged.
The Scottish SPCA has come under fire after putting down the animal, believed to have been found on the UAL Bodewes cargo ship as it visited Aberdeen, having taken it to be a deadly green mamba.
The vessel had made its way from West Africa, however now it has emerged the animal found on board was a benign green tree snake, which had neither venom nor fangs.
It was discovered on Wednesday, November 9.
Animal officers were called in from the Scottish SPCA’s rehoming centre in Drumoak after workers on the ship captured the snake in a box, with a police escort helping transfer it to Deeside.
The snake was then put down due to “severe health and safety concerns”, with the closest anti-venom for a green mamba bite located in London.
Workers had attempted to find it a home with a specialist reptile keeper.
It has also emerged that the snake was killed by being placed inside a freezer, which is against the Scottish SPCA’s own guidelines.
Last night co-founder of north-east animal sanctuary, the New Arc, Keith Marley, said freezing was a “horrible way to die” for a snake.
He added the best course of action for snakes believed to be dangerous was to put them into a fridge to slow them down before handling them.
Mr Marley said: “I don’t like to criticise what other rescuers do, and the Scottish SPCA do a lot of good work, but on this occasion they got it wrong.
“It is a ridiculous method of killing. They have secured the snake, that is fine that had to be done, but who identified it? Who did they consult to check the identity of the snake with experts? Why put it to sleep so quickly?
“There is a number of tree snakes and a number of garden snakes, it wouldn’t be too difficult to find somebody in Aberdeen to get it assessed.”
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent, Mike Flynn, said: “The snake was thought to be a green mamba, one of the deadliest snakes in the world. The snake was taken by police escort to our Aberdeenshire Animal Rescue and Re-homing Centre.
“Sadly the snake, which staff genuinely believed to be a green mamba, had to be put to sleep after our attempts to re-home it to specialist reptile keepers were unsuccessful.
“We could not keep the snake in our centre due to severe health and safety concerns, as the closest anti-venom is held in Bedford. Green mambas also require a Dangerous Wild Animal Licence which the Society does not have.
“The safety of our staff and the public is paramount and as such the snake was placed in a freezer where it passed away. Recent guidance issued in the past month on euthanising animals suggests that placing a reptile in a freezer is not the preferred method.
“However, in this instance freezing was considered the only safe option as any other method would have posed a significant risk to our staff.
“The decision to euthanise the snake was not taken lightly. Unfortunately the snake has since been identified as a harmless green tree snake. This has been an honest mistake on the society’s part as we genuinely believed this was an extremely deadly snake.
“Our centres took in 265 reptiles last year including snakes, terrapins and lizards, a 74% increase in the number we’ve rescued over the last five years. Reptiles are cared for by our dedicated centre staff until we can find them a new home with someone who has the time, resources and dedication to give them a fresh start.
“The Scottish SPCA is proud of its policy not put healthy animals to sleep. Animals are only put to sleep on veterinary advice if they are too ill or too aggressive to be rehomed, or where we are legally required to do so.”