What Animals Are Most Likely to Prey Upon Humans?

What Animals Are Most Likely to Prey Upon Humans?
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
What Animals Are Most Likely to Prey Upon Humans?
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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Between 1998 and 2007, along a five-mile stretch of the Kali River in India, three people were reportedly dragged underwater, never to be seen again. On an episode of the Animal Planet show River Monsters, biologist Jeremy Wade speculated that the culprit might have been a gigantic goonch catfish, weighing as much as 200 to 300 pounds, more than five times larger than the average goonch.

A goonch catfish.

Though this particular explanation for the disappearances is unlikely, it showcases how wild stories of human-eating animals capture our attention. Some of them are actually true! While catfish may not predate upon humans, other animals do. These are the most likely perpetrators:

1. Lions. As a large, apex predator that hunts animals weighing up to 1,000 pounds, a lion is more than capable of having a human for lunch. And they do. Lions kill between 20 and 250 people each year worldwide. Tanzania has the largest population of lions in Africa. Between 1990 and 2004, 593 people died from lion attacks. As humans encroach more and more upon lions' habitats, it grows increasingly likely that we will be on the menu for these big cats.

2. Tigers. At least 373,000 people may have died from tiger attacks between 1800 and 2009, most likely due to the burgeoning human population in India. While humans are not often a preferred meal, we are relatively easy prey, making us prime targets for older or infirm tigers. History is replete with tales of tigers known to have killed numerous humans. Most recently, a tiger in the Indian state of Maharashtra was hunted down and killed after eating thirteen people over a two-year timespan.

3. Crocodiles. Though concrete data is hard to come by, it's thought that crocodiles are responsible for more human deaths by direct attack than any other predator. Nile crocodiles in Africa are particularly pernicious on account of their immense size relative to other crocodiles and their proximity to humans. Humans are often attacked when they are fishing, swimming, or doing chores in rivers.

In this 2012 photo provided by Joe Wasilewski, shows a Nile crocodile that he found in Homestead, Fla.  (Joe Wasilewski via AP)

4. Bears. There are only around forty bear attacks on people each year, and the vast majority are not for predation, but rather out of fear or the desire to protect cubs. Polar bears are the most likely species to predate upon humans. Large males – when nutritionally stressed – will absolutely hunt people in their territory, especially if they are in small groups.

5. Komodo Dragons. Restricted to only a few sparsely populated islands in Indonesia, Komodo dragons rarely hunt people, but they do regard us as prey. Armed with sharp fangs and venom, the large lizards can ambush and take down strong animals like water buffalo. An unsuspecting human would be no match.

6. Sharks? Actually, no. Though Shark Week and Jaws may make it seem otherwise, sharks actually don't attack or eat humans all that often. Humans venture into the ocean millions of times each year, yet in 2019 there were only 64 unprovoked shark attacks and two deaths. Only four species, the great white shark, tiger shark, bull shark, and the oceanic whitetip shark, are known to occasionally attack humans, yet even when humans swim alongside these fearsome-looking behemoths they rarely attack.


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