A fire broke out this weekend in Brazil, destroying one of the world's largest collections of snakes, spiders, and scorpions. Housed at the Butantan Institute in Sao Paulo, the collection contained roughly 500 thousand dead specimens, which took over 100 years to amass, preserved for research into the creation of serums and vaccines. One official from the institute says the devastation as incalculable, describing the destroyed collection as "a loss for humanity."
According to the report from the news agency Globo, the biomedical research center, which was founded in 1901, was home to the largest collection of snakes in Brazil, and the research conducted there has been instrumental in the development of vaccines. But any future research is undermined by the loss of the roughly 80 thousand specimens. "[The collection] is one hundred years of history. I can not say anything, "said the collection's curator, Francisco Franco.
We have lost everything and this is a loss for humanity. The snakes... were used as the basis for studies and to increase our knowledge of the biodiversity of snakes. All of the snakes were lost. Today there is nothing left.
The fire began in the early morning, gutting the research facility and destroying the formalin preserved specimens--some of which had yet to be described by biologists. Firefighters did manage to rescue the institute's live animals, but soon had to turn people away from entering the building for fear it would collapse. No one was injured.
A short circuit is suspected to be behind the blaze, though authorities say the investigation is ongoing. Researchers who worked at the facility say that the building was not properly equipped for fires, lacking alarms or a sprinkler system.
Otavio Azevedo Mercadante, who studies snakes at the Butantan Institute, is disheartened by the loss. "The material damage, you recover," he said. "The scientific, no."