The World’s Most Deadly Animals

Dianne Ersk­ine-Hell­rigel

A few weeks ago I wrote about the mos­qui­to being the most dead­ly ani­mal in the world, caus­ing 750,000 deaths world­wide per year. Humans are the sec­ond dead­liest crea­tures to inhab­it the earth caus­ing 437,000 deaths per year. So, now that you know that, I thought you might be inter­est­ed to see what the oth­er 13 out of the 15 dead­liest crea­tures might be. The list includes mam­mals, fish, par­a­sites, bugs and more. Any guesses?

#15 Sharks

#15 Sharks

MY GUESS is that you’re think­ing sharks. Well, Sharks are indeed on the list, but are way down at #15, the low­est on the list. Shark attacks that result in death are fair­ly rare, with an aver­age of 6 per year world­wide. There are more than 500 species of sharks to help fes­ter your fear of the crea­tures. They live pri­mar­i­ly in salt water bod­ies, but some species can also live in fresh water. When they bite and lose their teeth, they have numer­ous sets of replace­able teeth to bite you with. The more com­mon­ly known species of sharks include the great white shark, tiger shark, mako shark, blue shark and ham­mer­head shark. If it makes you feel bet­ter, humans are more of a threat to sharks than sharks are to humans.

#14 Wolves

#14 Wolves

Mov­ing up the list from #15 we find Wolves at #14. Wolves obvi­ous­ly don’t live in San­ta Clari­ta, but wolves are respon­si­ble for more deaths than sharks around the world, for an aver­age of 10 per year. Very few of these occur in North Amer­i­ca or Europe. India and Rus­sia seem to share the great­est num­ber of attacks by wolves. Wolves tend to eat ungu­lates (hooved ani­mals like deer), small ani­mals, car­rion, live­stock, and even garbage. Humans gen­er­al­ly don’t appear on the menu. Most of the record­ed attacks are by rabid wolves. Non-rabid wolves have attacked humans, most­ly chil­dren. Wolves in gen­er­al have a healthy fear of humans, and tend to stay away from them.

#13 Lions

#13 Lions

Mov­ing up the lad­der, we come to Lions at num­ber 13. Lions are attrib­uted to killing 22 humans on aver­age per year. None of those deaths have occurred in San­ta Clari­ta, so unless you’re in sub-Saha­ran Africa or India, you need not be in fear of the lion. In the 15 year peri­od between 1990 and 2005, 563 peo­ple were killed by lions in the coun­try of Tan­za­nia. My sus­pi­cion is that this num­ber is actu­al­ly high­er world­wide, but record keep­ing is sketchy at best. So, the best gues­ti­mate is 22 per year. I have tak­en many walks on the plains of Tan­za­nia with Masai body guards armed with spears and occa­sion­al­ly rifles. It is rather unnerv­ing to think that at any moment you could become prey to a lion, chee­tah, or oth­er apex preda­tor. I was not con­vinced that if I were attacked that the Masai would stay to fight off the lion. But I did learn how to kill one myself, should I be attacked. (This was not much of a com­fort either). How­ev­er, lions do not gen­er­al­ly hunt humans. In Tan­za­nia, I was told that it is the Masai Shep­ard who gen­er­al­ly fall prey to lions. After long hours on the plain watch­ing their live­stock, they get lazy and com­fort­able, and stop scan­ning the hori­zon for big cats. And even though the Masai Shep­ard is car­ry­ing a lion club and knife, the sur­prise attack by a 550 lb lion is indefensible.

#12 Elephant

#12 Ele­phants

Mov­ing up to #12, we reach what might be a sur­pris­ing ani­mal to you, the Ele­phant. Ele­phants are respon­si­ble for 500 deaths per year. There are 2 species of ele­phants: the Asian ele­phant and the African ele­phant. Most of my asso­ci­a­tions with ele­phants have been in zoos or watch­ing them on the African plain, qui­et­ly graz­ing on the grass­es that are so plen­ti­ful there. How­ev­er, I was shocked on one of my trips to Tan­za­nia to see an ele­phant run­ning after a safari vehi­cle, with a pan­icked dri­ver, dri­ving off as quick­ly as the car would move, with a furi­ous ele­phant right behind him. The fright­ened pas­sen­gers were scream­ing and pas­sen­ger flot­sam was fly­ing off of the back of the truck. I don’t know what incit­ed the attack, but it was cer­tain­ly a dan­ger­ous few moments. The ele­phant even­tu­al­ly backed off, but the vehi­cle didn’t stop until it was out of site. On anoth­er safari in Tan­za­nia, my vehi­cle was parked by a pool where ele­phants were enjoy­ing a swim. Sud­den­ly, one of the ele­phants had tired of our pres­ence and charged us. It was just a warn­ing, but we didn’t stick around to aggra­vate the ele­phant any longer. In India, I wit­nessed Mahouts (an ele­phant keep­er) vir­tu­al­ly enslav­ing ele­phants, and beat­ing them. I was furi­ous at the tor­ture I wit­nessed and refused to sup­port the Mahouts there by hir­ing them for an ele­phant ride. The week after I got home, I read about an Asian ele­phant attack­ing and killing a Mahout. The ele­phant was shot. So, my sug­ges­tion, if you are around ele­phants in Asia or Africa, is to keep your dis­tance. Admire them from afar…..very far.

#11 Hippopatemus

#11 Hip­popota­mus

Num­ber 11 is tied with #12 as far as the num­ber of aver­age deaths per year. Hip­popota­mus­es are also respon­si­ble for 500 deaths per year. The Masai shud­der with fear when they see them, and mar­vel at the American/European fas­ci­na­tion with them. The Masai guides just want to step on the gas and get out of there. Hip­pos have long been con­sid­ered the most dead­ly ani­mal in all of Africa. They are aggres­sive towards humans, and if you’re in a boat, they will most like­ly tip it over. They are pri­mar­i­ly an her­biv­o­rous mam­mal liv­ing in sub-Saha­ran Africa. They are the third largest land ani­mal fol­low­ing the ele­phant and the rhi­noc­er­os. A male can weigh in at 3300 lbs. The name, Hip­popota­mus comes from ancient Greek and means, “Riv­er Horse”.

#10 Crocodiles

#10 Croc­o­diles

Croc­o­diles are num­ber 10 on the list. They are respon­si­ble for 1,000 deaths per year. They are the largest aquat­ic rep­tiles to live in Africa, Asia, the Amer­i­c­as and Aus­tralia. (Note that Alli­ga­tors are also con­sid­ered with­in this same order, but are a dif­fer­ent bio­log­i­cal fam­i­ly). Croc­o­diles gen­er­al­ly feed on fish, rep­tiles, birds and mam­mals, but have been known to eat mol­lusks and crus­taceans. In Africa, one of the major tourist attrac­tions on safari is dur­ing the migra­tion of ungu­lates (zebras, gazelles, Cape buf­fa­lo) across the Masai Riv­er. The Croc­o­diles grab as many as they can, drown­ing them, then, stash­ing them in the riv­er to con­sume lat­er. It is a con­stant fight for life. Humans get into trou­ble with Croc­o­diles when they walk along the rivers, col­lect water, sit and relax on the river­banks and even fish. Croc­o­diles vir­tu­al­ly dis­ap­pear under­wa­ter as they stalk a per­son on the banks. Often times they are cam­ou­flaged fur­ther by riv­er grass­es grow­ing on their backs. So, when they leap out of the water and grab the unsus­pect­ing human, there’s usu­al­ly only a few sec­onds before the vic­tim suc­cumbs to drowning.

#9 Tapeworm

#9 Tape­worms

Mov­ing on to num­ber 9, we arrive at a par­a­site known as a tape­worm. Tape­worms kill approx­i­mate­ly 700 peo­ple per year by a result­ing infec­tion called cys­ticero­sis. There are more than 1500 species of tape­worms in the U.S. A. alone. How­ev­er, infec­tions come from pri­mar­i­ly 4 species: pig tape­worm, beef tape­worm, fish tape­worm, and the dwarf tape­worm. Tape­worms can vary from 6 inch­es to 55 feet in length. Tape­worms are the old­est known par­a­sites in the world. You can get a tape­worm by eat­ing raw or under­cooked meat, through bad hygiene, com­ing into con­tact with con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed soil, water or feces. Most infec­tions are found in South­east Asia, West Africa and East Africa due to bad sanitation.



#9 Roundworm

#8 Round­worms

Next we have anoth­er worm that has earned the num­ber 8 spot by killing 4500 peo­ple a year. This is the Ascaris round­worm. This worm caus­es an infec­tion called aschari­a­sis. Eggs from this par­a­sitic nema­tode are deposit­ed in feces and in soil. Plants with eggs on them can infect any­one who con­sumes them. Infec­tion can be caused by com­ing into con­tact with the infect­ed soil, food, water, or feces. Peo­ple die from com­pro­mised nutri­tion­al sta­tus, obstruc­tion of the intes­tine, among oth­ers. Coun­tries that have bad san­i­tary con­di­tions are most sus­cep­ti­ble to these infec­tions. Most infec­tions can be found in sub-Sahara Africa, Asia, and Latin Amer­i­ca. More chil­dren than adults are affected.



#7 Freshwater Snails

#7 Fresh­wa­ter Snails

Fresh­wa­ter snails are num­ber 7. Fresh­wa­ter snails can car­ry par­a­sitic worms that can cause a dis­ease called schis­to­so­mi­a­sis. This infec­tion occurs when skin comes in con­tact with con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed fresh water where the snails live. Fresh water becomes con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed when an infect­ed per­son uri­nates or defe­cates in the water. The expelled eggs hatch in the water, infect, the fresh­wa­ter snails and mul­ti­ply. When a healthy human enters the water, the par­a­sites can enter his sys­tem through the skin. Even­tu­al­ly the eggs can trav­el to the blad­der and intes­tine caus­ing inflam­ma­tion, ane­mia, mal­nu­tri­tion, and learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties. The par­a­site can also dam­age the liv­er, intes­tine, spleen, and lungs. This par­a­site kills more than 20,000 peo­ple a year. Schis­to­so­mi­a­sis can be found in 78 coun­tries. Some of these coun­tries are: Brazil, Iran, Sau­di Ara­bia, Mau­ri­tius, Egypt, Chi­na, Cam­bo­dia, Moroc­co, Niger, Sier­ra Leone, Yemen and Burk­i­na Faso.


#6 Assassin Bugs

#6 Assas­sin Bugs

Assas­sin Bugs are num­ber 6 and are respon­si­ble for 12,000 deaths every year. This bug is also called the kiss­ing bug because it bites peo­ple on the face/lips, gen­er­al­ly at night when the vic­tim is sleep­ing. This bite results in a dis­ease called Cha­gas, named after the Brazil­ian physi­cian who dis­cov­ered the dis­ease. This vec­tor borne dis­ease, orig­i­nal­ly from Latin Amer­i­ca has now migrat­ed into North Amer­i­ca and Europe. My first expe­ri­ence with an Assas­sin Bug was in the Ama­zon Basin. I was liv­ing in a hut in the mid­dle of nowhere along­side the riv­er. There were 42 natives liv­ing in this vil­lage, with whom I had no con­tact, except for my eco-guide who looked remark­ably like Tarzan, includ­ing the lit­tle loin-cloth. There was no elec­tric­i­ty, and the few bat­ter­ies we had need­ed to be con­served, so we were up at dawn and in bed at sun­set. I was in bed, flip­ping through a book try­ing to I.D. all of the amaz­ing insect and arach­nid species I’d pho­tographed that day……I saw move­ment at the head of my bed…..and there it was, an Assas­sin bug head­ed straight for me. Luck­i­ly, I cap­tured it in an emp­ty plas­tic water bot­tle and took it to break­fast with me in the A.M. It was indeed a “Kiss­ing Bug”. Trans­mis­sion of the par­a­sites is inter­est­ing. First, the bug bites you and feeds on your blood. Then, it defe­cates near the wound. The par­a­sites pass from the bug’s feces into your blood­stream through the wound and/or your mucus membranes.

#5 Tsetse Flies

#5 Tsetse Flies

Num­ber 5 is the Tsetse Fly. The Tsetse Fly caus­es 10,000 deaths per year. The Tsetse Fly trans­mits a dis­ease called Sleep­ing Sick­ness through the bite. Inter­est­ing­ly, the Tsetse Fly is attract­ed to the col­ors blue and black, so if you’re ever on a safari, stay away from wear­ing those two col­ors and you’ll prob­a­bly be left alone. The Tan­za­ni­ans con­struct traps for them with blue and black cloth. When the fly inves­ti­gates the cloth trap, they are trapped and poi­soned. So, if you’re in Africa, stay away from black hats and blue jeans. Tsetse Flies occur in Africa between the Sahara and the Kali­hari Deserts. How­ev­er, fos­sil records sug­gest that they lived in Col­orado 34 mil­lion years ago.

#4 Dogs

#4 Dogs

Num­ber 4 is the dog. Dogs cause 35,000 deaths per year. Most of these deaths are attrib­uted to those dogs who are infect­ed with rabies. In the Unit­ed States we vac­ci­nate our pet dogs against rabies. But in oth­er coun­tries this is not the case. There is a town in Tibet known as Dog Town. I vis­it­ed this town on my way to Ever­est sev­er­al years ago, and took the pre­cau­tion of a pre­ven­ta­tive rabies shot, which mere­ly allowed me 48 hours to get to a hos­pi­tal where I could be treat­ed prop­er­ly for rabies. Dog Town is inhab­it­ed by uncar­ed for, dirty, intim­i­dat­ing, vicious, cun­ning dogs by the hundreds….maybe by the thou­sands. It is believed that when a fall­en monk dies, he is rein­car­nat­ed as a dog. There­fore, dogs are not cared for in the least, are not helped, and are basi­cal­ly ignored by the pop­u­la­tion, and some­times whipped when they become a nui­sance. They have to fend for them­selves. The dogs have come to know that tourists will feed them. So, they will stalk the tourists, growl, cor­ner them, and the only way out is to throw a gra­nola bar or two or three and then run for your life. Many of these dogs die of rabies since they are not vac­ci­nat­ed. Be cau­tious of fer­al dogs in oth­er coun­tries. And if some­time in your life you end up in Dog­town, Tibet…wear as many thick lay­ers of cloth­ing as you can find, and make sure your com­pan­ion can­not run as far or as fast as you can. And, pack lots of dog bones and Lara Bars.

#3 Snakes

#3 Snakes

snake eats human

snake eats human

Snakes are list­ed as num­ber 3 because they are respon­si­ble for 100,000 deaths per year. Both ven­omous snakes and con­stric­tors can kill you. The most ven­omous snakes include rat­tlesnakes, death adder, vipers, Philip­pine Cobra, Tiger Snake, Black Mom­ba, Taipan, Blue Krait, East­ern Brown Snake, Fierce Snake/Inland Taipan. Dead­ly Con­stric­tors include Pythons, and Boa Con­stric­tors. Pythons are found in Africa, Asia and some Indone­sian Island and Malaysia. They are not indige­nous to the U.S.A., but pets have escaped and have nat­u­ral­ized in places like Flori­da where they have become a nui­sance. Boas are found in Mex­i­co, Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, South Amer­i­ca and Mada­gas­car. Ana­con­das are in the boa fam­i­ly. They can be found in the Ama­zon Basin and the Orinoco Basin. There are 20 species of ven­omous snakes that can be found in the U.S.A. This includ­ed 16 species of rat­tlesnakes, 2 species of coral snakes, one species of water moc­casin, and one species of cop­per­head. Alas­ka and Hawaii are the only states that do not have ven­omous snakes. More than 7,000 peo­ple per year in the U.S. alone are treat­ed for ven­omous snake bites. The anti-ven­om is high­ly effec­tive, but about 5 per­sons per year in the U.S. die. Most of the report­ed snake bites in the U.S. are from Cop­per­heads, but the good news is that the Cop­per­heads are the least ven­omous. In oth­er parts of the world, snake bites go untreat­ed, or there may not be anti-ven­om avail­able, or the rur­al areas have no med­ical facil­i­ties near­by. In South­east Asia, con­stric­tor deaths are often report­ed after a vic­tim has been com­plete­ly con­sumed. Many hous­es have open win­dows. Snakes enter at night, bite and con­strict a vic­tim, and then swal­low them whole. The snake is so dis­tend­ed that he can­not move.

#2 Humans

#2 Humans

#1 Mosquito

#1 Mos­qui­tos

So, this brings us back to #2‑killing humans who rack up 437,000 deaths per year, and the mos­qui­to, our #1 offend­er with 750,000 deaths per year.

It’s a frightening world out there. I’m headed out to buy a chain-maile suit and a mylar vest, 60% deet spray and some ammo. Anyone want to ride along?