Komodo Dragon Bites Zookeeper

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.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

3 Responses to “Komodo Dragon Bites Zookeeper”

  1. Alligator responds:

    I’ve raised savannah monitors, Nile monitors and water monitors, all junior cousins to the Komodo, as well as caimans and several varieties of constricting snakes. They do get excited at feeding time and it is best to use very long tongs or introduce them to the feeding area after the food item is already there. You never, ever want to get near them with food scent on your person! To a reptile, if it looks like a human, moves like a human and smells like a rat, it’s a rat.

    In the end you can have all the “safeguards” you want but you have to use your own good common sense and realize these are living animals and you can’t always predict their every action and move. Most injuries come when the keepers start letting their guard down because they become so familiar and comfortable with their animals. Then without even realizing it, they get sloppy in the cage and wham!

    I believe that more intelligent animals like big cats can sense when a keeper has reached this condition. Every time I got bit, that’s what I could always trace the problem to – I got careless.

    There is an element of risk being a zoo keeper – period. But the chances of getting nailed on the Interstate are much greater than getting it from one of your charges.

  2. nzcryptozoologist responds:

    I know it says venomous but wouldnt toxic be a more accurate term with these animals as the animal does not inject the toxin, unless you consider the bite as such but relys on the symbiotic action of the bacteria to do its job.

    Often wundered about this.

  3. Alligator responds:

    That is a very good point and an excellent description nzcryptozoologist
    The press tends to be a little sloppy with these descriptions but of course, the average person probably cares little. All they know is the thing bites and you might die.

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