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Hundreds of snakes, many dead, found in Southern California house

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hundreds of snakes and rodents were found on Wednesday in the home of a Southern California elementary school teacher after neighbors complained of a stench emanating from the squalid house in the city of Santa Ana, police said.

The teacher, who is in his 30s but was not identified by police, was arrested on suspicion of felony animal cruelty, said Santa Ana police Corporal Anthony Bertagna, who added that most of the snakes were pythons and many were dead.

"A lot of them are deceased and in various stages of decay," Bertagna said in an interview with Los Angeles television station KTLA-TV from the scene.

He said investigators estimated that 300 to 400 or more snakes were being kept in the home, located in a suburban section of the Orange County city of Santa Ana, about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

Television footage aired by another station, KCAL, showed police and animal control officers dressed in white hazardous-materials suits and respirators raiding the home to find rooms lined with shelves stacked floor to ceiling with plastic bins containing the snakes.

"The stench is overwhelming," neighbor Forest Long Jr. told KCAL outside the dwelling.

Other neighbors said they were aware that the suspect kept pythons but had no idea he had hundreds of snakes in his house.

The five-bedroom house also was home to hundreds of rats and mice that were apparently kept as food for the snakes, Bertagna said.

Police Corporal Sondra Berg, a supervisor for the animal services branch, told KCAL it appeared that most of the snakes were malnourished.

KCAL reported that Berg had visited the home nine months ago and met with the man who lived there, but found the premises to be clean and the snakes well cared-for at that time.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Leslie Adler)

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