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Police in Sao Paulo were today investigating the cause of a fire that destroyed one of the world's largest collection of dead snakes.
The 85,000-strong snake collection, used by scientists to develop vaccines and medicines, was destroyed with an estimated 450,000 spider and scorpion specimens when fire swept through the Butantan Institute's archive.
"We have lost everything and this is a loss for humanity," the collection's curator, Francisco Franco, told the Agencia Brasil news agency. "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."
A firefighter said the flammable liquid used to preserve the specimens helped spread the fire.
The cause of the blaze is being investigated.
Some of the specimens in the 100-year-old collection were of rare or extinct species.
The dead specimens were preserved in flammable liquids, which contributed to the spread of the fire, firefighter Captain Miguel Jodas told local media.
The fire did not hurt any humans or live animals.
Institute officials said they are working on a plan to rebuild the collection.
The whole building was consumed by flames from an upper floor, while inside the thousands of reptiles preserved in formalin for scientific experiments were reduced to ashes.
Firefighters suspect that the cause of the disaster could have been a short circuit, though the investigation will take several weeks.
Recently the Butantan has also been the public agency charged with developing the vaccine against the AH1N1 swine flu virus in Brazil from a sample provided by France’s Sanofi Pasteur laboratory.