There are at least fifteen million different animal species on Earth. Many are harmless. Many are not…From brute strength to paralyzing toxins, there are creatures big and small that deserve a place on this list of the most dangerous animals in the world. It showcases 11 of the most formidable beasts out there, hopping from the deep-blue oceans to the rolling plains to bring you a selection decided on using cold, hard statistics.
The truth is that animals have been killing humans since before we learned to walk upright. (Recent ‘Silent Witness’-style forensic evidence taken from the skull of a child hominid who lived roughly two million years ago determined that it was death by eagle talon!). But fatal animal attacks go back even further. We know that crocodiles, for instance, have been attacking and eating humans for at least four million years. Egyptians so feared them that Sobek, their god of evil, was always depicted with a crocodile’s head!
But it’s also important to remember that most animals don’t really want to kill or even hurt a human — they just want to be left alone to eat, sleep, and do their thing. Most dangerous encounters occur when creatures are hungry, protecting territory, or defending their young. Then, all bets are off. That mommy panda might look cute and cuddly, but get too close, and she’ll turn into a monster.
So, without further ado…our list of the 11 most dangerous animals in the world…
The 11 most dangerous animals in the world, ranked by global fatalities
Here it is: the short version. Read on for more information about each creature on this, our official list of the 11 most dangerous animals in the world…
1. Snakes: 80,000 – 135,000 human fatalities per year
2. Dogs: 60,000 human fatalities per year
3. Roundworms: 60,000 human fatalities per year
4. Tapeworms: 40,000 human fatalities per year
5. Scorpions: 3,250 human fatalities per year
6. Saltwater crocodile: 1,000 human fatalities per year
7. Hippopotamus: 850 human fatalities per year
8. African buffalo: 200 human fatalities per year
9. Lions: 170 -180 human fatalities per year
10. Tigers: 65 – 85 human fatalities per year
11. Sea wasp (box jellyfish): 40-60 human fatalities per year
How we define what counts as one of the most dangerous animals in the world
The dictionary definition of dangerous is “able or likely to cause harm or injury.” But when we talk about the most dangerous animals in the world, we usually mean the deadliest animals in the world. AKA – the ones that kill, not the ones that just harm or injure. We’ve gone with that on this list. Here, the “most dangerous” means “most deadly.” To put it another way, to make it into our selection, you’ve got to be a killer!
Strange then that some animals that you might expect to see here remain glaringly absent. The great white shark, for example, may have a reputation as a ruthless killer, but even with all other shark attacks added, the worldwide average is less than six fatalities per year! Reassuring for you surfers.
You won’t necessarily find the world’s most venomous creatures on this list either. The stonefish, for example, may be the most toxic fish known to man, but there have been less than five known fatalities in the last 50 years. And as for all you arachno-fans…We’re sorry, but even in Australia, infamous for its deadly spiders, there have been no deaths from a spider bite since 1979.
To compile our data, we’ve used research from only the highest-regarded sources, such as the World Health Organisation, Nature Magazine, the Institute of Zoology, and National Geographic. We’ve also looked at specific peer-reviewed studies when clarification was needed or when we needed to fill in some extra detail. One thing to point out: This is a global list, so the annual fatality numbers might not match those used in similar but regional articles.
All that done and dusted, are you ready? Let’s go…
Latin Name: Serpentes | Human Deaths per year: between 80,000 and 135,000 | Fatal Weapons: venom, constriction | Where to Find Them: every continent except Antarctica
There are more than 3,000 species of snakes on the planet, found on every continent except Antarctica. The countries of Iceland, Ireland, and Greenland are snake-free, and in New Zealand, even zoos don’t have snakes! About 600 species of snake are venomous, and, of those, less than 200 pose a significant health risk to humans. In other words, less than seven percent of the planet’s snakes can kill you.
Although accurate data for snakebites is impossible, as so many go unreported, a 2018 study published in The Lancet estimates that up to 1.2 million people are bitten annually (not including “dry bites”). This results in between 81,000 and 138,000 fatalities.
World’s most dangerous snake
It’s difficult to specify what is the world’s most dangerous snake, as each species poses a different type of danger. The black mamba, for example, injects up to twelve times the lethal dose for humans in each bite. It can also bite as many as ten times in a single attack. Other snakes, such as the inland taipan, have a more potent venom. But they rarely attack humans, so the overall number of fatalities is low.
At the other end of the scale, the so-called Indian “big four” snakes (see below) are not the most venomous, but they kill more people because they live close to human habitats – India is home to more than a billion people, remember? Rather than list every deadly snake, we’ve decided to highlight some snake “record-holders,” starting with what is the world’s official most venomous snake.
Latin Name: Oxyuranus microlepidotus | Human Deaths per year: none | Fatal Weapons: highly potent venom | Where to Find Them: remote parts of Australia | Conservation Status: Least concern
The inland taipan (aka the western taipan) is rare and found only in certain parts of Australia. This is lucky, as it’s the most venomous snake in the world. According to the LD50 scale, which measures venom toxicity, one inland taipan bite is strong enough to kill 100 adults. Symptoms start with headache, nausea, and vomiting, followed by hemorrhaging of the blood vessels and muscle tissues, and eventually complete paralysis. If left untreated, more than 80% of bite victims will die, usually within 45 minutes of the attack.
That might sound ominous, but although it’s known as “the fierce snake,” the Inland Taipan is actually quite shy and will usually try to escape if disturbed. If it can’t get away, the Taipan will make a threat display by raising its forebody in a tight, low, S-shaped curve with its head facing towards you. If you ignore the warning, the snake will, reluctantly, strike. Although many snakes prefer to dry bite first, thus keeping hold of all their venom, the inland taipan will envenom in almost every case.
Although it’s not on any protected species list, it’s pretty rare to find an inland taipan. There have been a few sightings in Queensland, but in the two other known haunts of New South Wales and Victoria, the snake is so rare it’s considered extinct. In fact, there are probably more inland taipans in zoos and private vivariums than there are in the wild today.
Latin Name: Echis carinatus | Human Deaths per year: 8,000 (estimated) | Fatal Weapons: venom | Where to Find Them: India, Middle East, Central Asia | Conservation Status: Least concern
The saw-scaled viper (often abbreviated to SSV) is native to Asia, but it’s better known as one of India’s “big four” snakes, with the other three being the common krait, Russell’s viper, and the Indian cobra. Between them, they are responsible for at least 80 percent of all snakebite deaths in India (roughly 46,000 per year), which in turn make up at least half of snakebite deaths worldwide.
Although SSV venom has the lowest toxicity of all the big four, the snake lives close to humans, and it bites fast and often. In drier regions of India, such as on the savannahs, SSVs inflict up to 90 percent of all bites, although only one in five of these are venomous (the others are dry bites). Because of the vast distribution of SSVs, most zoological experts agree that this one small viper kills more people than any other snake species in the world.
Reaching just 2 or 3 feet in length, saw-scaled vipers are the smallest of India’s “big four,” but they make up for it with attitude. They are irritable and famously aggressive, and will attack and bite at the slightest provocation. Frank Wall, an influential pioneer in the study of Indian reptiles, even once described the Indian SSV as “the most vicious snake” he’d ever met.
Toxins in SSV venom act directly against blood vessel membranes, preventing the body from producing blood clots. This leads to catastrophic bleeding, often internal, which can be fatal if left untreated. However, the venom also causes necrosis of the tissue around the bite, so even if people survive, they can still lose fingers, toes, or even entire limbs! SSV antivenin is widely available, but only in more-developed countries, meaning areas of poverty tend to see more deaths from viper bites.
Dubois sea snake
Latin Name: Aipysurus duboisii | Human Deaths per year: 8,000 (estimated) | Fatal Weapons: venom | Where to Find Them: Coral Sea, Arafura Sea, Timor Sea, and Indian Ocean. | Conservation Status: Least concern
Most snakes live on land, but there are roughly 70 species of snake that have made the sea their home, mainly in the Indian and western Pacific oceans. A large proportion of sea snakes are venomous, too. They come armed with the same type of venom as cobras and kraits but in a more concentrated form. Of the ten most venomous snakes in the world, five of them are sea snakes.
The Dubois, or reef shallows snake, is the most venomous sea snake ever tested. Living amongst coral reefs at depths of up to 260 feet, they feed on moray eels and other species of fish that inhabit the seafloor. As such, it’s rare for them to encounter humans, which is why there are so few fatalities from a Dubois bite.
Titanoboa: The largest snake that ever lived
Titanoboa lived between 66 and 56 million years ago. When its fossilized remains were first discovered in 2009, the measurements were so vast that it was initially misclassified as some sort of enormous crocodile. A PhD student from Universidad del Rosario, Columbia, correctly identified that it came from a snake named “Titanoboa” due to its resemblance to today’s boa constrictor. Experts in ancient reptiles calculated that the snake would have been up to 42 feet long, and over 1,130 tons in weight.
(Fun Fact: The Dubois sea snake snake was named in honor of Charles Frédéric Dubois, a 19th-century Belgian naturalist. Curiously, he specialized in the study of birds and butterflies, not snakes!)
Latin Name: Canis familiaris | Human Deaths per year: at least 60,000 | Fatal Weapons: sharp jaws and unrelenting bite, infectious bacteria | Where to Find Them: everywhere
It’s estimated that approximately 5.9 million people are bitten by dogs every year in the US alone. That accounts for over 95 percent of all bite wounds seen in hospital emergency departments. Although the prognosis for most animal bites is excellent, dog bites are still responsible for about 30 to 50 human deaths every year (and even more if you include attacks from wild dogs). With larger dogs, victims that escape infection can still end up maimed for life or worse.
Statistically, pit bulls attack more people than any other dog in the world. Their infamous “hold and shake” bite style causes severe bone and muscle damage, often inflicting permanent and disfiguring injuries. Moreover, once a pit bull starts an attack, shooting the dog may be the only way to stop it. However, the overwhelming majority of deaths from a dog bite are not from tetanus, sepsis, or maiming, but from a deadly virus that attacks the brain…
Rabies causes approximately 60,000 human deaths every year in over 150 countries, with children making up almost 40 percent of the fatalities. Of these cases, 99 percent are from the bite of an infected dog. However, at least half of the fatalities from rabies are never reported. Even the usually conservative WHO states that “this number [of 60,000 deaths per year] is likely a gross underestimate”.
In the Western world, rabies is rarely a concern, as most dogs are kept as pets and will have been vaccinated against the virus. But Africa and Asia are less fortunate, and together they share a staggering 95 percent of all rabid dog bite cases, with China having the second-highest rate of human rabies cases in the world. All rabid dogs die from the virus. That trademark frothing at the mouth usually signifies the dog has less than a week to live.
Many people are unaware of the full threat from a rabies bite. Rabies is a viral disease, passed on exclusively by animals, that causes progressive and fatal inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The clinical signs are paralysis or inexplicable hallucinations, such as a sudden fear of water. Sadly, these clinical signs only appear once the infection has taken hold, and a fatal prognosis is irreversible.
(Fun Fact: We’ve all heard of dogs that can detect cancer, but that’s just one of their diagnostic skills. People with diabetes are now employing dogs to detect dangerous blood sugar levels, which they do by smelling minute changes in their owner’s sweat. Other so-called “super-sniffer” breeds are used to detect breast cancer and malaria, and some can even detect Parkinson’s disease.)
Latin Name: Ascaris lumbricoides | Human Deaths per year: 60,000 | Fatal Weapons: ascariasis | Where to Find Them: worldwide, especially tropical and sub-tropical countries
Parasites are organisms that live in and feed off a living host. Many parasitic worms can find their way into humans and lie undetected while they feed for considerable periods of time. Among them are flatworms, flukes, and roundworms. As shocking as it may seem, an estimated one-sixth of the human population is infected by some sort of roundworm, and A. lumbricoides, commonly called the large roundworm, is the biggest culprit of the lot.
The large roundworm causes a disease called ascariasis, which is an infection of the intestine. The larvae (eggs) of the worm grow in soil that’s been contaminated with human feces — quite common in developing countries that regularly recycle wastewater into crop fields. If a human accidentally swallows some eggs, the larvae will hatch and enter the bloodstream. Feeding on blood cells and tissues, they develop into adult worms that can grow up to 14 inches long.
Two other creatures — A. lumbricoides and T. trichiura — can also infect humans with ascariasis, but they cannot multiply in the human host. The large roundworm can and does, and its uncontrolled multiplication (as in the picture above) can be fatal. That being said, over 85 percent of infected people show no symptoms at all and are surprised that they even have the disease.
But in cases where the worms have multiplied in sufficient numbers, ascariasis causes abdominal swelling and possible further complications such as pancreatitis and peritonitis. In some rare cases, the disease has even caused sudden death. Ascariasis primarily affects children who are likely to swallow eggs by licking their fingers after playing outside, especially near dirty water.
According to a 2015 study published in The Lancet, ascariasis is responsible globally for approximately 2,700 deaths per year, and this study is widely cited in many popular internet articles. However, more recent research (2018 onwards) from the WHO, CDC, and NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information) puts the figure closer to 60,000. For our list, we’ve chosen to go with the most recent fatality figures.
The infection occurs throughout the world but is mainly seen in sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, East Asia, and China. However, the sheer number of people infected means deaths occur globally, including in the US and Europe. As recently as 1986, an outbreak of ascariasis in central Italy was traced back to human wastewater, which was accidentally being used to grow vegetables.
Latin Name: Taenia solium | Human Deaths per year: at least 40,000 | Fatal Weapons: Neurocysticercosis | Where to Find Them: worldwide, especially tropical and sub-tropical countries
Tapeworms are a type of flatworm, and in humans, they regularly grow up to 30 feet in length. However, a recent find was a shudder-inducing 59 feet — for decency’s sake, we won’t tell you which part of the body it was pulled from! Tapeworms start life in the intestines of animals such as cows and pigs, where they lay undetected and produce eggs which in turn produce larvae.
Eating the meat of these infected animals, especially raw or undercooked, can pass the eggs or larvae on to humans. This also happens when people drink water shared with livestock, perhaps from a river, which is common in rural and undeveloped areas. Each animal produces a different tapeworm species, but the most harmful to humans comes from the pork tapeworm: T. Solium.
It’s important to note that there are two different human diseases caused by T. Solium: one from ingesting live larvae, the other from ingesting the eggs. Live larvae attach themselves to the human intestinal wall using small hooks and feed off the host’s food. As they eat, they produce more and more body segments, known as proglottids, which increase the overall length of the tapeworm. In humans, this parasitic infection is known as taeniasis, which, although common, is usually harmless. In rare cases, it can cause intestinal blockages, requiring surgery.
Ingesting tapeworm eggs, however, is far more severe. When the embryonic larvae emerge from the eggs, their tiny size allows them to penetrate the intestinal wall. Once in the bloodstream, groups of larvae come together to form cysts, which invade body tissue and organs. These cysts can develop in the muscles, skin, eyes, and the spine or central nervous system. This disease is known as cysticercosis, and it can have a devastating effect on human health.
When cysts develop in the brain, the condition is referred to as neurocysticercosis. Symptoms include severe headaches, blindness, convulsions, and epileptic seizures. Neurocysticercosis is actually the most frequent preventable cause of epilepsy worldwide. It accounts for up to 70 percent of all cases in some countries. In poorer, remote places where the disease is present, epilepsy is difficult to diagnose and treat, especially in girls and women.
A 2000 article published in the WHO monthly bulletin estimated global deaths from NCC (neurocysticercosis) at 50,000 per year. A later study, in 2010, used AI to determine a fatality result of between 21,000 and 36,000. Deaths are mainly confined to parts of the world without modern toilets or sewage systems. However, a handful of cases have been reported in the US. Furthermore, according to neuro specialist Oscar H Del Brutto, the “prevalence of NCC in Western Europe may also be on the rise.”
The condition is being researched globally, including by science journalist and TV presenter Michael Mosley, who deliberately ingested beef tapeworms to document their effect. “Disgusting they may be, but I think they’re also extraordinary,” said Dr. Mosley, “They have astonishing life cycles, and they are some of the most successful living things on the planet.”
(Fun Fact: Medical scams have been in existence since forever, but the internet has brought one back from the 1900s: the “tapeworm diet.” The theory is simple: deliberately ingesting a tapeworm “re-eats” all the food you’ve just swallowed, thus reducing your weight. There’s no scientific basis for this claim, but that’s never stopped the scammers. Ironically, most tapeworm diet pills sold over the internet don’t contain anything apart from sugar, which will make you gain weight, not lose it!)
Latin Name: Scorpiones | Human Deaths per year: 3,250 | Fatal Weapons: venomous sting | Where to Find Them: all continents except Antarctica.
Scorpions are arachnids, meaning they’re in the same class as spiders. They have the same number of legs, but they’re also armed with large, grasping pincers at the front, plus a versatile tail at the rear, always tipped with a stinger. What’s more, Brazilian wandering spiders might be the stuff of nightmares, but scorpions are far more deadly…
There are just over 1,500 scorpion species worldwide, and roughly 55 are dangerous to humans. Although that adds up to less than four percent of all scorpions, they still account for over 3,250 deaths every year across the globe. Death from a scorpion is rare in the US, where only the Arizona bark scorpion carries a fatal sting. That’s been responsible for just one death in the last 60 years.
However, across the border in Mexico, it’s a very different picture. In the land of tequila and sombreros, scorpions are a significant public health problem. In the 1960s, SSE was responsible for over Mexican 1,500 deaths per year, but now increased access to antivenin has vastly reduced fatalities. A 2020 Toxicon report states there are now “only” 50 deaths per year in Mexico, which is a significant improvement over earlier records at least.
The greatest number of scorpion-related deaths are reported in Africa, South India, the Middle East, and south Latin America. These are the place that you’ll find the most venomous scorpions, commonly known as “fat-tails” (although we prefer their scientific name, Androctonus, which translates as ‘man-killer’).
The most lethal of all scorpions is the Indian red (Hottentotta tamulus), a close relative of the fat-tails. Despite its name, the arachnid can be many colors, ranging from a bright reddish-orange to a dull brown. Widespread across India, parts of Pakistan, and Nepal, “The Red” is becoming a serious problem in Sri Lanka, where fatalities are on the increase.
Although less than 3 inches long, the Indian red punches above its weight with a potent venom called Tityus serrulatus. A sting from the Indian red causes a massive release of neurotransmitters that affect the entire body, making it one of the most toxic venoms in the world.
Shortly after a sting, victims develop intense pain at the entry wound, followed by a numbing sensation. This is followed by vomiting, sweating, breathlessness, and massive swings in blood pressure. The venom causes a wildly fluctuating heart rate and at the same time targets the lungs, causing them to fill with fluid (pulmonary edema). If untreated, the fatality rate can be up to 40 percent, particularly in children whose smaller bodies are more susceptible to toxins.
Despite the risk of fatalities, Indian reds are often kept as pets, ironically by a lot of Indians. Maybe it’s because, like most scorpions, they glow under a black light?
(Fun Fact: Another highly toxic scorpion is the impressively named Deathstalker, whose venom is medically prized due to its potential for treating brain cancer, malaria, and arthritis. To get a gallon of venom takes approximately 2.64 million milkings, which is why Deathstalker venom is the most expensive liquid in the world, at a cool $39 million per gallon, plus tax!)
6. Saltwater crocodile
Latin Name: Crocodylus porosus | Human Deaths per year: at least 1,000 worldwide (estimated) | Fatal Weapons: sharp teeth, incredibly powerful bite, death roll | Where to Find Them: Throughout Indonesia, particularly Sumatra | World Population: over 400,000 | Conservation Status: least concern
Saltwater crocodiles, known affectionately as “salties”, are the world’s largest living reptiles. The males are the biggest, although their dimensions vary greatly depending on age and other factors such as diet. Lengths of 12 to 19 feet are typical, but according to the 2020 Guinness Book of Records, the largest saltie ever (in captivity) lived in the Philippines. His name was Lolong, and he measured a massive 20 feet 3 inches — that’s over three quarters the length of a London bus!
Saltwater crocs prefer to hide out in brackish mangrove swamps or river deltas, where they can stay submerged for up to an hour at a time, patiently awaiting their prey. Despite their name, saltwater crocs are excellent long-range swimmers in both salt and freshwater – one reportedly swam 370 miles in 25 days! So practically any river, stream, or brook could be harboring a saltie, which is why you should never venture too close to the water’s edge anywhere in Indonesia without a knowledgeable guide — in fact, that’s good advice wherever you are in the tropics if you ask us!
A powerful bite
Crocodiles, as most people know, have a super-powerful bite, but when expressed in numbers the actual bite pressure is staggering. To put it into perspective, when Mike Tyson bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear in 1997, the bite pressure was about 200 psi (pounds per square inch). A saltwater crocodile can apply a bite of 3,700 psi, which is almost 200 times stronger! That means a saltie’s bite is strong enough to crush any prey, up to and including any sharks that may stray into its territory.
Apart from being the most deadly, salties are also the most aggressive of all crocodiles to boot, at least according to a recent Australian study. “They are certainly the ugliest when it comes to aggression,” said Matthew Brien, the wildlife biologist who conducted the study. “They get in an agitated state,” he continued, “then wind themselves up and swing their heads into other crocodiles.” [The blows are] “quite fearsome, like a sledgehammer that would certainly shatter your head.”
Saltwater crocodiles will attack anything and everything. Even swift-flying birds and bats will be snatched if they fly too close to the water’s surface — crocs can launch themselves almost vertically, as demonstrated in this awesome video. Their deadliest attack is reserved for larger prey. In a move known as the “death roll,” the croc will ambush the animal, drag it into the water, then roll its body underwater. This disorients the doomed prey and often results in drowning before blood loss.
Crocodiles do not necessarily set out to hunt humans. Still, a meal is a meal, and CrocBITE, the worldwide Crocodilian Attack Database, reports an average of 20 saltwater croc fatalities per year in Indonesia alone. Across the world, human deaths from the saltwater crocodile are estimated at 1,000 per year.
Apart from saltwater crocs, other crocodiles worldwide account for at least 300 human deaths per year. Africa’s Nile crocodile is the next deadliest after the saltie, claiming at least 250 kills alone. The remainder of the fatal attacks come from Asia’s mugger crocodile (about 10) and the American crocodile (4-5).
Latin Name: Hippopotamus amphibius | Human Deaths per year: at least 1,500 | Fatal Weapons: huge razor-sharp teeth, powerful bite, massive bulk | Where to Find Them: throughout sub-Saharan Africa | World Population: between 125,000 and 150,000 | Conservation Status: vulnerable
They may be the subject of the comedy song Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud by Flanders and Swan, but hippos are no joke. They’re regarded as the world’s deadliest large land mammal, responsible for an estimated 750 to 3,000 deaths per year.
Hippopotamuses (or “hippopotami” – both are correct) are easily recognizable by their barrel-shaped torsos, short, stumpy legs, and massive, wide-opening mouths. These contain 36 or sometimes 40 teeth, with the most prominent being the razor-sharp canines (one on each side of the jaw), molars (three each side), and incisors (two each side). Unlike most other mammals, a hippo’s teeth keep growing throughout their life, and their canines can reach up to 1 foot 8 inches (50 cm) in length. For this reason, the canine teeth are often mistaken for tusks, which is technically incorrect, although they do contain ivory.
Adult males are larger than their female counterparts and grow up to 16 feet in length, stand up to 5 feet tall, and weigh an average of 3,300 pounds. In captivity, with plenty of food and a lifestyle of little to no exercise, some males have been reported to weigh almost 10,000 pounds, which is well over 4.5 tons.
The hippo’s short legs and ungainly body makes it look slow and clumsy, but they can move fast if they want to. In fact, a hippo can gallop up to 20 miles per hour (30 km/h), meaning it can easily outrun a human over short distances. They’re equally adept at moving through water, where their webbed feet allow them to navigate the shallow river beds. Adult hippos can spend up to 16 hours a day in the water, which they must do to keep their skin cool. A clever set of muscles allows the ears and nostrils to be folded shut to keep out water, while hippos can hold their breath for up to five minutes if necessary.
Human deaths per year from hippo attacks range from about 750 to about 3,000. In Kenya alone, the average is 40 per year. But hippos are herbivores, meaning they prefer to eat grass, so they don’t see humans as prey. However, they are fiercely territorial and can turn aggressive. Most attacks on humans are by the cows (the females), either before birthing or when protecting their calves. If they sense a significant threat while on land, hippos will make for the water, and anything that gets in their way will be rammed. With three tons of mammal charging at up to twenty miles per hour, there’s usually only one result!
Many deaths are the result of attacks in the water, too. Submerged hippos often mistake small fishing boats for crocodiles, and they will actively attack the perceived threat (because crocs are known to prey on hippo calves). Unfortunately, a hippo’s sheer bulk can easily overturn a flimsy boat, and many fishermen die through drowning or a fatal injury. Hippos have a bite that’s ten times stronger than a human’s, so in many cases, crushed bones and internal bleeding are the eventual cause of death.
In a study carried out in Burundi, researchers calculated that the probability of being killed from a hippopotamus attack (what’s known as the “case fatality rate”) is at least 29% percent and likely to be as high as 80%. When compared to the case fatality rates of grizzly bears (4.8%), sharks (22.7%), and crocodiles (25%), it’s easy to conclude that hippopotamus attacks are far more dangerous than most people realize.
(Fun Fact: In the early 1980s, the drug baron Pablo Escobar built himself a zoo near Bogata, Columbia, which included four hippos; one male and three female. When Escobar was arrested in 1990, his property was seized, but nobody knew what to do with the hippos. As a result, there are now between 50 and 60 “cocaine hippos” resident in Columbia, and new calves are appearing at an alarming rate. Perhaps it’s something in the water!)
8. African (Cape) buffalo
Latin Name: Syncerus caffer caffer| Human Deaths per year: 200 (unverified) | Fatal Weapons: massive horns, sheer bulk | Where to Find Them: sub-Saharan Africa | World Population: 400,000 | Conservation Status: near threatened
When asked to name Africa’s “big five,” most people camn reel off the first three (lion, elephant, and rhino) without any problem. After a while, the fourth one (leopard) would probably spring to mind. But the last member of the group, the African buffalo, is often forgotten. And that would be a mistake, as they’re possibly the most dangerous animal of the lot…
What’s in a name?
Firstly, let’s clear up some confusion over the many names for buffalo. It’s all to do with species and sub-species. The species is called Syncerus caffer, which translates into English as, simply, “African buffalo.” Within that family are four subspecies, all native to Africa. The smallest is S. caffer nanus, the dwarf forest buffalo, which is about the size of a zebra and lives in central and west-African forest areas. Next up in size is S.caffer brachyceros, the Sudan buffalo from western Africa, then S.caffer aequinoctialis, the Nile buffalo of central Africa. Finally comes Syncerus caffer caffer, the Cape buffalo, largest of the African buffaloes and the only one officially part of Africa’s big five.
For completion’s sake, two other types of buffalo often get confused with the African buffalo. The first is the domestic water buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) seen throughout India and parts of Asia, where they’re tamed and put to work. Surprisingly, more people depend on water buffalo than on any other domestic animal in the world.
Lastly, we have the American buffalo, or rather, we don’t. Despite the misleading lyrics to Home on the Range, there is no American “home where the buffalo roam”, mainly because they’re not buffalo; they’re bison. Buffaloes have never lived in the Americas, and bison have never lived in Africa. And if you need more proof, just look at the Latin name for the American so-called buffalo. Yep, it’s Bison bison bison!
Description and habits
Physically, the African buffalo is a most imposing and impressive beast. Males, known as bulls, can stand up to 5 feet 6 inches tall, with a maximum length of over 11 feet. The largest individuals tip the scales at 1,800 pounds, which is just under 1 ton. The females (cows) are up to one-third smaller and lighter.
The most recognizable part of the African buffalo is its majestic set of horns, made of bone and covered with keratin. The span of the horns can reach over 4 feet from tip to tip, and at the base is a rigid plate, known as the ‘boss,’ which protects the top of the head. Because these horns are used for fighting, the bull with the largest horns will always take the alpha male spot, and gets first choice of females in the mating game.
Although notorious for their aggression, particularly towards hunters, African buffaloes are highly social animals. Staying in loose herds of between 50 and 200 individuals, they engage in mutual grooming and will often sleep with their chins resting on each other’s backs and shoulders. When they feel particularly safe, they will sometimes engage in affectionate nuzzling and playful ear-chewing.
Members of the herd are extraordinarily protective of each other. If they’re in unfamiliar territory or under attack, healthy males will form a protective circle around older, weak or young buffalo, then lower their horns to create a defensive ‘wall’ of almost-impenetrable bone. They’ll stay that way until they decide that flight is the better option, and at that point, the herd is likely to stampede. A herd can stampede for up to a mile or until the calves are too tired to continue. Any hapless creature that gets in the way of a rage of stampeding, one-ton buffalo is unlikely to survive. Remember The Lion King?
Left to their own devices, African buffalo are peaceful herbivores, merely looking for the next patch of tasty grass to feed themselves and their young. But if they sense a threat, they will charge. It’s that behavior that’s given them the nicknames of ‘the widow-maker’ or even ‘the Black Death’. In Africa, it’s said that “no one survives a cape buffalo attack.” While this might sound a bit dramatic, it’s pretty close to the truth.
Although there are no accurate or reputable reports available, it’s estimated that the African buffalo is responsible for more deaths than lions, tigers, or elephants, and the most quoted figure is 200 fatalities per year. Many who die are hunters, trying to grab a set of buffalo horns for their trophy wall. (The buffalo is seen as the most difficult of the big five to hunt, so it’s the most prestigious trophy, apparently.)
Big game hunters used to stopping beasts with one shot from their trusty rifle are often poorly prepared for an African Buffalo. Because of their exceptionally thick hides, one bullet will hardly ever bring down a buffalo — just make him angry. The beast will continue to charge, maim and gore until the threat is neutralized, which usually results in the hunter’s death.
African buffalo are notorious for seeking revenge, and they will actively track down and pursue hunters, who they can recognize by smell. In May 2018, an experienced South African hunter who’d shot and killed a buffalo was gored to death by another herd member as he was cleaning the carcass. Experts believe that because the second buffalo was facing no threat, it was a revenge killing.
More recently, in June 2020, a bowhunter called Chris McSherry had taken down a 1,800-pound bull in Australia’s Northern Territories. But the beast was not quite dead. He told NT News, “I managed to turn and get about three steps in before he was on my back and gored his horns into my upper thigh, pushing me forward. That’s when I hit the ground, and he put the horns into me again, and flung me about three meters.”
Hunters of the big five’s most prestigious prize see nothing wrong in targeting African buffalo. They claim “we primarily take older bulls, making way in the pecking order for younger bulls and gene variety which aids the health of the herd.” However, the population is decreasing according to the latest data from the IUCN, and at least one sub-species might soon be reassigned from “near threatened” status to “vulnerable.”
(Fun fact: Robert Ruark, American author of The Old Man and The Boy and a keen big game hunter, once wrote, “When coming face to face with a buffalo, he will look at you as if you owe him money. My advice is to smile, pay the money, then run!”)
Latin Name: Panthera leo | Human Deaths per year: 170-180 (our estimate) | Fatal Weapons: sharp teeth and claws | Where to Find Them: Scattered across sub-Saharan Africa | World Population: approx 20,000 | Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Lions are justifiably monarchs of the jungle. In fact, a pride of hunting lions is probably the most formidable predatory force in nature. Instantly recognizable by the male’s splendid mane, lions are one of the largest of the big cats, only beaten to the top spot by the Siberian tiger. (Interestingly, it’s the mane that identifies the alpha male. The darker the mane, the more important the lion. Male Ethiopian lions have a mane that’s almost completely black.)
Males can grow to well over 6 feet in length, and body weights of over 450 pounds are not uncommon. The lionesses are lighter and sleeker, which helps when chasing down fast-moving prey such as wildebeest, antelope, and zebra. Males typically do not hunt for food but instead stay and defend their pride’s territory, keeping it safe from trespassers. However, male lions are skilled hunters, and younger pride members will often have to head out to find their own food if the kill is light.
But of course, we all know that lions don’t just eat antelope and zebra. Some of them have developed a taste for human flesh. Once they’ve classified humans as prey, lions will actively stalk us for food, just as they would with any other mammal. And, insultingly, some lions have killed humans as purely a “supplemental” meal. We don’t even warrant being a main course!
When lions attack
There have been some notable man-eating lions over the last century or so. Most famous are the “Man-Eaters of Tsavo,” a pair of males who reportedly killed and ate 140 men in Tsavo, Kenya, between May and December 1898. Forensic examination has since revealed that only 32 people died and that more than two tigers were involved, but the legend remains.
Man-eaters are responsible for an unusually large number of human attacks, which makes arriving at an average number of fatalities very difficult indeed. In 2004, a very detailed study into sixteen different large carnivores looked at animal-related deaths over the entire 20th century. For lions, the study arrived at a total of 552, which suggests a rate of 5.5 per year.
However, human deaths from lion attacks are now far more frequent than they were 15 or even 5 years ago. In Tanzania, which has the largest population of lions in Africa, a 2005 report deduced that more than 560 people were killed in the 15 years from 1990, giving an annual average of 37 a year. Today, that figure is 92.
While these numbers from Tanzania are very accurate, it’s hard to guess the number of fatal lion attacks that go unreported. The Daily Telegraph, an English broadsheet, claims there are 250 deadly attacks per year, but there’s no cited source for that figure and it seems a touch high. Our own calculations, from multiple sources, suggest a global fatality rate of 170-180 per year.
Loss of habitat
Researchers at the East African Wildlife Research Institute attribute the increase in human/lion conflict to an unsustainable reduction in the lion’s natural habitat. In January 2020, a colony of 36 lions at the Serengeti National Park had to be re-housed after a slew of attacks on people and cattle made their location unsafe for both man and beast.
“We used to kill [the lion] when only one lion attacked people, but this is a huge group: we can not do the same,” said Simon Mduma, director-general of the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute. “Lions are becoming vulnerable,” he continued. “More areas have been taken for human activities, and that has really affected the life of lions.”
Meanwhile, the global lion population continues to dwindle. The last two decades have seen a population slump of over 40 percent, and experts from the IUCN estimate that as few as 23,000 individuals remain in the wild. However, it’s thought there are roughly between 7,000 and 10,000 more animals that are part of South Africa’s captive-bred lion trade. Ostensibly set up as “lion reserves,” these breeding factories started by offering ‘cheap’ lions for trophy hunters to kill. Now, they make a mainly illegal fortune by exporting ground lion bone to Asia as an aphrodisiac.
In 2015, an African lioness attacked and killed a 29-year-old New Yorker called Katherine Chappell, a Game of Thrones visual effects editor on safari in South Africa. She’d rolled down her car window to take some pictures, and not seen the hungry lioness silently approaching. The animal stopped three feet from the vehicle, zeroed in on the poor film editor, then lunged through the open window and made her kill. A tragic and horrific attack for sure, but not unexpected. Lions are, after all, apex predators and extremely skilled hunters — even without their pride. For them, humans are as much prey as any other animal. And without horns, fangs, or any visible defense, we’re pretty easy pickings.
(Fun Fact: The largest lion ever was a black-maned male called Simba, who stood 3 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 825 pounds. However, some argue the true record-holder is Hercules the Liger, son of a male lion and a female tiger. Born on a wildlife reserve in South Carolina, USA, Hercules is 4 feet 1 inch tall, 10 feet 11 inches long, and tips the scales at a massive 922 pounds!)
Latin Name: Panthera tigris | Human Deaths per year: 60 to 85 (our estimate) | Fatal Weapons: sharp teeth and claws | Where to Find Them: | World Population: approx. 3,900 (wild), at least 12,000 (captive) | Conservation Status: Vulnerable
Africa may have its lions, but India has tigers. Overall, tigers are the largest member of the cat family (Felidae) and are rivaled only by the lion in strength and ferocity. India’s “live-and-let-live’”outlook towards its local wildlife means the country is today the world’s greatest stronghold for the big cats, with approximately 75% of all wild tigers making their home on the subcontinent.
The Siberian, or Amur, tiger (P. tigris altaica) is the largest, with males averaging 6 to 10 feet in length and weighing 300 to 600 pounds. However, the largest reported tiger was an outsized male Bengal shot in India in November 1967, which measured 11 feet 1 inch. Sumatrans are the smallest of all the world’s tigers, weighing in at an average of 220 pounds. The Indian, or Bengal tiger (P. tigris tigris), is the most numerous, accounting for about half of the total tiger population, estimated at 3,900 (in the wild).
However, there are far more tigers in captivity than in the wild. The fame of Netflix’s Tiger King has opened many people’s eyes to the sad fate of the 5,000 tigers kept in the US as pets, in traveling wildlife shows, or bred for the international market. But few people realize that at least another 8,000 tigers are being held captive throughout Asia. The WWF estimates there are approximately 200 Asian “tiger farms” feeding the illegal wildlife trade — most notably in China, Thailand, and Vietnam.
When tigers attack
Tigers are apex ambush predators, using their superb camouflage and padded feet to silently stalk their prey until they’re ready to pounce. Once they’ve zeroed in on a kill, tigers will chase down their victim at up to 40 miles per hour. However, tigers can only achieve their top speed in short bursts, so most attacks end with the tiger going hungry.
Attacks on humans are relatively rare, with India reporting less than 40 per annum (and the figures are falling year on year). Most are simply a result of people putting their hands through the bars at zoos or occasionally entering the tiger’s cage as an act of ill-advised bravado. Even in the wild, tigers usually turn and run from humans. They seem to have an ingrained fear of anything on two legs, even though we’re easy prey. Most reported attacks in a tiger’s natural habitat are a simple case of self-defense, or because a tigress has cubs to protect.
However, it’s a fact that tigers cause more human deaths through direct attack than any other wild mammal. And one type of attacker taps straight into a primordial fear that can drive communities to extremes. We’re talking, of course, about the man-eaters…
It’s a phrase that conjures up dread, and with good reason…It’s estimated that between 10 and 15 tigers a year become predators of human flesh. But it’s not a conscious choice for the tigers — instead, it’s to do with their habitat.
Tigers need large swathes of forest to hunt, and deforestation during colonial times has shrunk their stomping grounds considerably. Attracted by the lure of fresh livestock kept on farms, tigers started hunting close to inhabited villages. Farmers trying to protect their livelihood became early fatalities of tiger attacks, and humans were suddenly on the menu.
The most “celebrated” of these tigers was known as The Champawat Man-Eater. She stalked the foothills of the Himalayas near Nepal in the early 1900s. Over seven years, the Bengal tigress reportedly killed 437 humans for food, making her the deadliest animal in recorded history. The beast was eventually shot and killed in 1907 by Jim Corbett, a hunter commissioned by the British government. Corbett went on to rid India of several more man-eaters. In Kumaon, eastern India, a Bengal mother and cub pair known as The Chowgarh tigers killed 64 people between 1925 and 1930. Once again, Corbett was the hero of the hour, and to many, even in present-day India, he’s regarded as a saint.
(Fun Fact: No two tigers have the same stripes. Like human fingerprints, a tiger’s stripe pattern is unique to each individual. And although they’re usually thought of as dark brown, a tiger’s stripes range in color from light brown to jet black. Stripes occur randomly and are not symmetrical on both sides of the body.)
11. Sea wasp (box jellyfish)
Latin Name: Chironex fleckeri | Human Deaths per year: less than 1 (reported), 40-60 (our estimate) | Fatal Weapons: extremely toxic venom | Where to Find Them: Shallow waters of the Indo-Pacific
One of the most graceful and delicate of sea creatures, the box jellyfish, or sea wasp, has a particular ethereal beauty. But it holds a deadly secret: It’s the most venomous marine animal in the world. Perhaps that’s why its Latin name, Chironex translates into “the hand of death.”
Box jellies are the alpha species when it comes to jellyfish. For example, they can actually swim – at speeds of up to 4 knots – whereas other species can only float with the currents, with no control over their direction. Box jellyfish can also see where they’re going thanks to their 24 eyes (yes, 24!). Located in 6 clusters around the bell (the word for a jelly head), each eye has a different function, and some are there to detect movement.
In other words, box jellies can both recognize and pursue their prey, giving them a predatory advantage in the shallows where they hunt for small fish and prawns. Of course, their other great advantage is their incredibly toxic venom, which can kill in seconds. But although the venom is the strongest of all marine creatures, it’s the way the box jelly injects that toxin that’s the real killer.
The sea world’s most deadly venom
Box jellies have up to 60 tentacles, each growing up to 10 feet long and covered with approximately half a million explosive skin cells. The cells are called cnidoblasts, primed to detonate when they brush against another living being (including humans). The cnidoblasts then fire out billions of tiny, harpoon-shaped darts, called nematocysts, wickedly barbed so they penetrate the skin easily but are difficult to remove.
Venom injection is immediate. The toxins attack the central nervous system, and small prey dies instantly. Unfortunately for human beings, the venom also contains proteins that specifically attack human heart cells. According to Jamie Seymour, a prominent toxicologist from Australia, those proteins are “the bit that will kill you.” However, the sting can be so painful that a lot of victims go into shock and drown before they ever reach the shore.
Applying vinegar to the sting is the best way to lessen the pain, and many beaches have ‘vinegar stations’ for just that reason. However, scraping off the bits of remaining tentacle is precisely what not to do: less than ten percent of the venom is injected when the cells are first triggered, and the slightest movement of even a dead jellyfish’s tentacles will force the rest of the venom straight into the victim.
The number of worldwide deaths from box jelly venom is hard to calculate. In Australia, which sees the heaviest concentration of box jellies, there have only been 72 reported deaths since records began in 1883. The last death was in March 2021, but there had been no reported fatalities in Australia for fifteen years up to that date.
Other countries see fewer attacks, but lack of antivenin results in a larger number of fatalities. For example, in the Philippines, the US National Science Foundation estimates at least 30 deaths per year from box jellies. In Thailand, a recent informal survey found that most native households know at least one family that has lost someone to a box jelly sting. Another factor is that “because death certificates are not required in many countries, […] worldwide fatalities from box jellyfish may be seriously underestimated.”
For all their delicate looks, jellyfish are a very robust species. Throughout the world’s oceans, there are 400 or so “dead zones” where extremely low oxygen levels in the water make it impossible for most life to survive. But not so for jellyfish, who can release up to 45,000 eggs at one time and whose young thrive in dead zones, where they can grow to maturity with little fear of predators.
Reports of massive coastal swarms of jellyfish are increasingly common, and these “blooms” cause damage to fisheries, mining operations, and desalination plants. Jellyfish have even disabled a nuclear power plant by clogging the intake pipes. One recent study found that, in Korea alone, jellyfish cause an estimated 150 to 200 million dollars damage a year to the economy. So it’s not just stings, eh?
(Fun Fact: Jellyfish are immortal. Well, specifically just one species: The tiny, transparent Turritopsis dirhnii. Found in tropical waters worldwide, these “immortal jellyfish” can revert back to an earlier stage of their life cycle, and start growing again from there. “Think of it,” say scientists, “as a butterfly turning back into a caterpillar, then becoming a butterfly again.” But that, we’d answer, is just crazy!)
There are three animals that we’ve decided to omit from our selection and we feel we should explain why. We don’t want people shouting at thier laptop screen, after all!
They are: The mosquito, the freshwater snail (yes, a snail!), and humans. Mosquito-borne diseases include malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, zika, chikungunya, and West Nile fever, but the insect itself does not create these diseases. Instead, it’s known as a “vector,” or carrier, meaning the disease is made elsewhere (mostly in humans), and the hapless mozzie just passes it on.
So, although mosquitos infect nearly 700 million people per year, resulting in over one million deaths, it’s wrong to say that they are the cause of these deaths. Similarly, tsetse flies (sleeping sickness) and assassin or ‘kissing’ bugs (Chagas disease) also don’t make the cut, as again they are vectors and do not kill humans directly. Don’t blame the messenger, eh?
Freshwater snails might not seem an obvious threat, but they’re what’s known as an “intermediary host.” They carry a parasitic disease called schistosomiasis, caused by one of the world’s most deadly parasites, which kills over 200,000 people a year. However, the parasite travels through water, and infection requires no direct contact between snails and people. Again, as the animal is not actively responsible, it doesn’t get included in our list.
The other deliberate omission is humankind. Yes: A human is an animal. And, yes: Humans have been killing each other for centuries – the worldwide homicide rate is roughly 475,000 per year, which makes us by far the most dangerous direct killers out there. It’s worth knowing, but we also know you came a-searching for creepy crawlies and biters in this piece, which is what we’ve focused on.
A final word
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article, and that perhaps some of the facts and figures came as a surprise. But for all the data we’ve presented about attacks and fatalities, the real answer is that the most dangerous animals in the world are the ones that see you as a threat.
Visiting animals in the wild is one of the best ways to experience nature, but always be aware that you’re in their home, and so you play by their rules. Never take unnecessary risks, never stray from the marked trails, and always listen to your guides – these are the things that should see you through.
What is the most dangerous animal in the world?
Snakes, when taken as a group, are the most dangerous animal in the world because they are globally responsible for more deaths per year than any other type of animal. Some argue that man is the most dangerous animal due to the numbers killed in war. In contrast, others think it’s the mosquito, as it carries (but does not cause) malaria and other diseases.
Which animal kills most humans?
Based on the latest research, snakes kill more humans than any other animal. Exact numbers are hard to calculate as many cases go unreported, but the current estimate is between 80,000 and 135,000 deaths per year from venomous snake bites. The deadliest species is the inland taipan, which has the most potent snake venom known to man. However, the most deaths are from the saw-scaled viper, responsible for roughly 10 percent of all snake fatalities throughout the world.
What’s the difference between poisonous and venomous?
People often talk about the world’s most poisonous spiders or the most poisonous snake, but usually they mean most venomous. That’s because both terms refer to a deadly toxin, but the difference is how they get into your system. Animals are only poisonous if their toxin is released by ingestion, meaning that you have to eat it (hence the term “food poisoning”). Animals that bite or sting to inject their toxins, like snakes, spiders, and jellyfish, are almost all venomous, not poisonous.
One exception is the small common garter snake. Although it does produce a mild neurotoxin, it has no mechanism to deliver this via a bite, so it’s not venomous. However, the garter snake’s favorite prey are newts and salamanders, and it absorbs and stores the toxins of all those it eats. If you were to bite into a garter snake, you would also ingest some of the newt or salamander toxin, which is poison. So this officially makes the garter snake the world’s most poisonous snake!
What is the deadliest spider in the world?
The funnel web is technically the deadliest spider in the world, as it kills so quickly. According to Dr. Robert Raven of the Queensland Museum, “in terms of speed of death, we say 15 minutes, no sweat. With a funnel-web bite to the torso, you’re dead. No other spider can claim that reputation.” However, some zoologists say the redback spider, also known as the Australian black widow, is more dangerous, as it possesses a stronger venom.
What country has the most dangerous animals in the world?
Any way you measure it, Australia has the most dangerous animals in the world. There’s a saying that “Australia has more things that will deliberately jump up and kill you than anywhere else,” and it’s basically correct. Australia counts the box jellyfish (most deadly sea venom), the inland taipan (the most venomous snake), the redback and funnel-web spiders (the most deadly arachnids), and the saltwater crocodile (most dangerous reptile). That’s more than enough to give Oz the title of “Country with the Most Dangerous Animals in the World.”