Worst Places for Animal Attacks
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From sharks to polar bears, animals can strike at any moment.
Here’s where they’re most threatening.
Dozens of spectators were horrified in February when a
12,000-pound killer whale pulled Orlando
SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau underwater during a routine performance,
eventually killing her. While it may be impossible to determine whether the act
was malicious or simply a giant animal trying to play, this tragedy is a strong
reminder of nature’s strength and potential ferocity—and the need for humans to
always err on the side of caution when dealing with would-be wild creatures.
While there are no official tallies of human deaths caused by
animals, these types of encounters shouldn’t come as a surprise. Despite man’s
efforts to conquer nature, we haven’t yet mastered the wild kingdom. As a
result, animal attacks—mauls, mangles, swarms, and stings—have steadily
increased as our desire to get in touch with nature reaches new heights, giving
rise to an entire travel industry touting intense up-close encounters with
untamed, and potentially dangerous, creatures.
Though wild animals lured travelers to hazardous habitats
centuries before Hemingway hunted the Big Five in Africa, not all animal
encounters are “natural.” Killer bees—a lab experiment gone awry—have caused
hundreds of deaths since they were accidentally released from an experimental
Brazilian hive in 1957.
And over the past decade, South Florida has
fast become a feral orphanage of dangerous pets, most abandoned by their
owners and left to grow in the swamps with local gators and venomous snakes.
“When exotic pets don’t sell, they get dumped,” says Virginia Aronson, author
of the upcoming book Iguana Invasion: Exotic Pets Gone Wild in Florida.
“Dangerous species on the loose in Florida include several giant snakes, like
African rock and Burmese pythons.”
But the way we respond to animal attacks remains a delicate and
political subject. Conservationists are quick to remind us that attacks, in
general, are downright rare. Sometimes the animals are looking for food when
they take bites out of us, which is nothing more than what we do to them. Many
attack when threatened or confused, like tigers, whose habitat continues to
dwindle—the World Wildlife Federation forecasts their numbers will drop from
around 5,000 to as low as 20 by 2070. The polar bear population is also
declining as their habitat slowly melts into the ocean as a result of climate
But the cold fact remains: animal attacks happen. Travelers who
show caution, choose the right outfitters, and learn a few sensible survival
tips will be the best prepared to face nature’s most ferocious animal