Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 17th, 2009
A Komodo dragon, one of the classic animals of discovery in cryptozoology, at the Virginia Aquarium of Virginia Beach, Virginia, bit the hand that fed it – literally. But aquarium officials said the incident on Friday, January 17th, was likely more due to excitement than betrayal as the popular expression implies.
The condition of the reptile keeper was not immediately available at Sentara Virginia Beach Hospital, but the injury was not life-threatening, the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center said in a statement to the AP.
The bite of the Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is often popularly said to be “venomous.” This is because Komodo dragons possess virulent bacteria in their saliva, of which more than 28 Gram-negative and 29 Gram-positive strains have been isolated. These bacteria cause septicemia in their victim; if an initial bite does not kill the prey animal and it escapes, it will commonly succumb within a week to the resulting infection.
The most harmful bacterium in Komodo dragon saliva appears to be a deadly strain of Pasteurella multocida, from studies performed with laboratory mice. There is no specific antidote to the bite of a Komodo dragon, but it can usually be treated by sterilizing the wounded area and giving the patient large doses of antibiotics. If not treated promptly, gangrene can quickly develop around the bite, which may require amputation of the affected area. Because the Komodo dragon appears immune to its own microbes, much research has been done searching for the antibacterial molecule(s) in the hopes of human medicinal use.
“Sanchez,” the 3-year-old Komodo dragon, was probably excited by the prospect of eating and bit the worker in a “feed response,” said Chip Harshaw, curator of reptiles and mammals.
“These kind of things happen when you work with animals like this. There is an inherent risk, and we know that,” he said.
Harshaw said he came to the worker’s aid as her hand was in the reptile’s grip. It released the worker’s hand after Harshaw put his hand on the neck of the 4 1/2-foot, 20-pound carnivore.
The biting incident was in an area that could not be viewed by visitors, the aquarium said. The aquarium has two other Komodo dragons.
Komodo dragons, which can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh as much as 365 pounds, are only found in the wild on Rinca and Komodo island in eastern Indonesia. There are believed to be 4,000 left in the world.
Meanwhile, in other zookeeper mauling news, there is an update out of San Francisco.
A San Francisco Zoo employee who was mauled in 2006 by the same tiger that killed a 17-year-old boy a year later has settled a lawsuit against the city.
Michael Mandel, an attorney for the zookeeper, Lori Komejan, said details of the settlement are confidential. The settlement comes as the trial was set to begin Tuesday, January 20th.
Komejan alleged that the zoo failed to properly equip the tiger cage with proper safeguards. One of her arms suffered deep gashes when the tiger grabbed it after she reached into a drain trough right outside the cage.
California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health blamed the zoo for the attack and imposed a $18,000 penalty.
Mandel said the settlement details can remain confidential because it is covered by the zoo’s insurance carrier, not taxpayer dollars.
Paul Gaspari, a private attorney who represented the city, did not return a message seeking comment. The city attorney’s office declined to comment.
On Christmas Day 2007, the same Siberian tiger killed 17-year-old Carlos Sousa and injured two of his friends when the animal escaped from its enclosure. Sousa’s family and the two other victims have sued the city.
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