Gila monster
Source: Fox31 Denver YouTube

A 34 year-old man from Colorado has died four days after he was bitten by one of his two pet Gila monsters.

Gila Monster Bites Man

The Jefferson County man owned two of the carnivorous reptiles, which The BBC reported are the “largest lizards in the country and can grow to about 22 inches (56cm) in length.” Gila monsters are venomous reptiles native to the south-western United States, and their bites are not normally fatal to humans. However, experts are saying that the unidentified victim may have suffered an allergic reaction after being bitten.

The Associated Press has identified the victim as 34 year-old Christopher Ward, whose two Gila monster pets were named Winston and Potato. Winston is believed to be the culprit who bit Ward, leading to his untimely death.

Ward’s girlfriend told police that she heard something that “didn’t sound right” before entering a room and seeing Winston latched onto Ward’s hand. Ward “immediately began exhibiting symptoms, vomiting several times and eventually passing out and ceasing to breathe,” according to his girlfriend.

Ward’s girlfriend added that they had bought Winston at a reptile exhibition in Denver back in October and Potato from a breeder in Arizona one month later. She appeared to be unaware that owning Gila monsters is illegal, and once she was informed of this, she wanted them out of her home immediately.

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Experts Weigh In

“I think this case highlights that any venomous animals should be respected,” said Dr. Nick Brandehoff, a medical toxicologist and expert in reptile bites with the Asclepius Snakebite Foundation, told CBS News.

“The vast majority of bites cause local swelling and bleeding,” he continued. “The last case I have been able to find was 1930 and that was not even a medical journal case.”

The Gila monster that bit Ward on February 12 was a juvenile that was about 12 inches long. Ward spent the next four days in the hospital before dying last Friday, just before the President’s Day weekend.

Eric Harper, a criminal investigator with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told reporters that CPW were asked to remove the Gila monsters from the home, and the animals were then taken to a wildlife rehab center in another state. He added that it is illegal to own Gila monsters in the state of Colorado without a license. The victim also owned tarantulas, which are not illegal to own.

Harper went on to say that while this incident may be an anomaly, it still shows that “venomous reptiles are hazardous and should only be handled or possessed by people with the proper training.”

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Investigation Ongoing

Officials have already launched an investigation into this incident, with Brandehoff saying that experts will “look at the venom components and see if there is some reason this might occur.” The venom from the Gila monster that bit Ward is being extracted at this time to give experts a better idea of how his death occurred.

This incident serves as a grim reminder of the dangers of owning exotic animals. Please join us in saying a prayer for Ward’s family and friends during this difficult time.

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