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Akron Zoo employee recovering from Komodo dragon bite, likely due to 'error,' zoo officials say

Akron Zoo Komodo dragon Padar
Akron Zoo
Akron Zoo officials say an employee is recovering after being bit by Padar, a 12-year-old Komodo dragon at the Akron Zoo, pictured above.

An Akron Zoo employee is recovering at home after being bit by one of the zoo’s Komodo dragons earlier this month, likely the result of an “error,” said Akron Zoo CEO Doug Piekarz.

In an exclusive interview with Ideastream Public Media, Piekarz said the incident occurred in the dragons’ resting area, which employees do not usually enter.

“It is typically not a situation where you would go in with the dragons,” Piekarz said. “Going in with the dragons when they’re not in an aggressive behavior is possible … but always with multiple people and a series of other safety precautions, which it does not appear here was deployed.”

Zoo officials are still investigating the incident, he added.

The incident happened before the zoo opened on March 3, Piekarz said. Employees responded immediately, and the injured keeper was hospitalized, he added.

The keeper is now at home expected to make a full recovery, he said.

Additionally, it appears that the dragon also bit the zoo's other Komodo dragon, he said. The injured dragon was treated by the zoo’s veterinarians and is recovering, Piekarz said.

The two dragons, who are both male, are typically kept separate from each other and even have separate bedrooms, he said.

“We suspect it was a shifting error … meaning the animal came in contact with the other animal and it was not intentional,” Piekarz added.

Zoo officials immediately reported the incident to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, he said. OSHA determined the Akron Zoo did not violate any safety procedures, Piekarz said.

“What that would suggest is an error was made, but the error was not in the safety procedures that were in place,” he said. “We’re still in the midst of the investigation in the just culture side of things. I can’t make any kind of summary judgement there until we’re a little further along.”

In the wild, a Komodo dragon bite can be deadly, Piekarz said.

The reptile’s saliva contains an anticoagulant as well as bacteria that causes their prey to continually bleed and become infected, he said.

However, in zoos, Komodo dragons typically have a much healthier diet and there is less concern, Piekarz said.

“Automatically, it is a better situation than receiving a bite in nature,” Piekarz said. “But in the process of this, because it was a Komodo dragon, our veterinary team speaks directly with the team of doctors that were working with our employee to convey all of that information in real time to ensure the proper treatment.”

The Komodo dragon who caused the injuries is still in the habitat for the public to see, Piekarz added.

“Honestly, the dragon was being a typical Komodo dragon, and, so yes, he will be on habitat, on a regular basis,” he said.

The zoo must prepare a full report to submit to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the national organization under which the Akron Zoo is accredited, by April 15.

In its investigation, the zoo is looking to determine ways both the zoo and the employee, if applicable, can improve for the future, Piekarz added.

“We're really looking at root cause analysis that then classifies future actions both in the space and with the employee,” Piekarz added. “Everything that we are doing on-site will examine the totality of the incident and how it happened and actually look at what actions, if any, need to be adjusted moving forward to protect against an accident occurring."

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.