Two men connected to Global Captive Breeders LLC have been arrested and charged with hundreds of counts of felony animal cruelty. The arrests stem from the discovery of close to 20,000 rodents and snakes in a warehouse in California in 2012 that had been neglected to the point where they could not be saved. Officials from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, described the animal-housing conditions as “hell on Earth.”

Global Captive Breeders specialized in the wholesale distribution of exotic reptiles, snakes and rodents, and the terrible conditions were discovered during an undercover investigation conducted by a PETA official. The group’s release details the investigation and rescue mission of nearly 20,000 rodents and snakes from Global Captive Breeders. The company’s owner, Mitch Behm, 54, and David Delgado, 29, a former manager, were arrested and charged with 106 counts of felony cruelty to animals, reports PETA. Behm was charged with 11 additional counts of felony cruelty to animals. If convicted, each man could face 36 months in jail and a fine of $20,000.

The undercover PETA officials witnessed rats routinely dying from drowning or dehydration due to broken watering systems, rats confined in small bins and snakes starving to death. Officials also witnessed the killing of rats by employees. All the animals were housed in unclean bins and cages filled with waste and urine. The employees were videotaped freezing the rats to death, shooting them with a BB gun and slamming them against hard surfaces, notes PETA.

The investigation led to officials discovering 18,400 rats and 600 reptiles, including sulcata tortoises and black tree monitors, neglected or near death inside the warehouse in December 2012, reports the Associated Press. PETA urged Riverside, Calif., authorities to file criminal charges against Global Captive Breeders and later received a celebrity endorsement from Jenna Dewan Tatum.

The conditions in the warehouse were so bad that several rescue workers who took part in the seizure had to get counseling, reports AP. During the seizure, rescue crews encountered sickly rats that could not be removed from the warehouse and had to be euthanized.  

The ammonia fumes inside the warehouse from the urine and feces caused vomiting in several workers and some individuals developed sore throats and colds following the rescue attempt. Capt. Cindy Machado, from Marin Humane Society in Novato, helped coordinate the efforts and told AP the workers had to take numerous breaks and that many were affected emotionally by the way the animals had been neglected.

Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president of cruelty investigations for PETA, spoke to AP about the undercover investigation. Nachminovitch said the smell of death and decay inside the warehouse was “overpowering.” The animals could not be saved and had to be euthanized, with Machado calling it a peaceful end to the animals' neglect.  

A very graphic video documenting the neglect inside the Global Captive Breeders warehouse, courtesy of PETA, can be viewed below.