Killer Whale Attack

In the book version of Deadly Kingdom, I wrote about the first victim of Tilikum, the killer whale. Space prevented me from covering his probable second victim, a homeless man who intruded after hours. I’m sure by now everyone has heard of the third victim, a trainer at Sea World. While explanations for this sort of thing abound, the key factor no one seems to mention in the news stories I’ve read is that, to most other animals, we’re nothing special. We’d like the world to behave according to our values, placing human life above everything else. It doesn’t. One of the key themes in the book, in fact, is this very problem. We see the natural world in all sorts of skewed ways because we’re so deeply invested in our own view, in what benefits us and what we as humans find important. The rest of the world isn’t obligated to agree with us, and the Tilikum story is a brutal reminder that it rarely does.

What Eats People, Part 11: Komodo Dragons

On the island of Komodo, a man has been wounded by the bite of a dragon. Worse can happen: The Komodo dragon is the only lizard unequivocally proved to prey on people. In the book version of Deadly Kingdom, I discuss the recently discovered dragon venom that seems to tranquilize prey into submission quickly. We now know four families of lizards possess venom. Until recently, only the beaded lizards, including the dangerous Gila monster, were known to be venomous. Most of these newly-discovered venoms are probably harmless to people. But the monitor family—of which the dragon is the largest member—have long been known to cause profuse bleeding. The dragon, of course, has the size (a beefy ten feet) and teeth to dispatch an unwary human by mechanical injury.

Video: Komodo dragon vs. deer:

What Eats People, Part 10: Tigers

Five kinds of cats eat people. Historically, the tiger was regarded as the most prolific of the human-killing cats. Some reports claim tigers killed more than twelve thousand people in the 20th century. The most prolific single man-eater known to history is the Champawat tigress, which killed 436 people in India and Nepal. A famous hunter named Jim Corbett shot it dead in 1907. Today, in the Indian park named for Corbett—among other places—villagers still face deadly tigers.

Photo by Wayne T. Allison

What Eats People, Part 9: Saltwater Crocodiles

I said last time that the Nile crocodile is the world's current leader in predation on humans. That's what the numbers show, but there's a compelling case to be made for a few other predators, including the saltwater crocodile. No other habitual predator of humans is as big and powerful. It's the largest of the crocs: the biggest specimens go upwards of 20 feet, and they may weigh a ton and a half. It's also widely distributed across heavily populated parts of Asia, and that may mean it's taking a lot of people we don't find out about.

What Eats People, Part 8: Nile Crocodiles

Here's one of the most notorious internet photos of recent years. The animal is a Nile crocodile; the arm belongs to a Chinese zookeeper. The croc was forced to give it back.

In researching for Deadly Kingdom, I went to great lengths to find out what animal eats the most people. It's not as simple a question as it seems, for a lot of reasons—the most important being that dead men tell no tales. The answer also changes with the times. Large-scale predation on people in the modern world always follows human troubles—famine, poverty, tsunami, or, more often than any other cause, war. These days African nations like Burundi are feeling the effects of strife, and that has opened the door for mass predation by the Nile crocodile. As far as verified cases go, the numbers are fragmentary, but the Nile croc looks to be taking about a thousand people a year.

Raccoon Attack

Another mauling that has people surprised pitted a child and her father against an escaped raccoon. Somehow the raccoon has acquired a cuddly image. But, as a biologist quoted in this news story notes, "Raccoon are vicious carnivores, and they're not afraid of people."

People are often surprised, too, to realize how big a coon can get. One that visited my patio stood on the ground and peered over the lip of a 30-gallon trash barrel. Another one, which my wife spotted beside the highway, was standing on its hind legs with its head just a few inches short of the speed limit sign beside it.

(Next: Back to the Man-Eaters.)

Horse Attack

I'll take a break from the list of man-eaters for a couple of days to catch up on some interesting news stories.

Today's is about a man mauled to death by a horse. It's not terribly unusual for people to die by being bucked off or kicked, but this attack is something different. A stallion seems to have bitten the man repeatedly, amputating his arm and inflicting massive injuries to his torso and leg. I'm aware of only a few other cases like this; one of them involved a man trying to restrain a stallion interested in a mare in heat. This prolonged attack, however, suggests that the stallion took the man as a rival for dominance in the herd.
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