Man dies after being bitten by pet Gila monster; experts call incident a 'rare event'


In what experts are calling a "rare event," a 34-year-old Colorado man died this month, days after being bitten by one of his two pet Gila monsters. The Jefferson County coroner confirmed the death and said an autopsy was performed but the precise cause of death won't be known until additional toxicology testing is completed.

While their bites can be painful, Gila monsters are not normally fatal to humans. Experts say the last reported death from a Gila monster bite was nearly a century ago, in 1930.

The victim, who has not been identified, owned two pet Gila monsters and was bitten by one of them on Feb. 12. It was a juvenile and about 12 inches long. The man was hospitalized and died the Friday leading into the Presidents Day holiday weekend -- four days after the animal bit him.

Eric Harper, a criminal investigator with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said CPW was asked to remove the Gila monsters from the home after the bite. He told CBS News Colorado it is illegal to own Gila monsters in Colorado without a license. Harper said the victim also owned tarantulas, which are not illegal to own.

Harper and Dr. Nick Brandehoff, a medical toxicologist and expert in reptile bites with the Asclepius Snakebite Foundation, both said the reptile that bit its owner will be transported this week to a lab at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where its venom will be extracted and studied to bring a greater understanding as to why its bite led to its owner's death.

Brandehoff said experts will "look at the venom components and see if there is some reason this might occur." He said while it's early in the investigation, he suspects the victim may have suffered some kind of allergic reaction to the Gila monster's venom.

The Lakewood Police Department says the two Gila monsters were removed from the victim's home and taken to a wildlife rehab center in another state.

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