World’s Deadliest Animals

Watching wildlife is one of the joys of travel. Whether it’s seeing whales in Iceland, spotting sloths in Costa Rica or observing orangutans in Borneo, there’s a world of wild experiences out there.

But for thrills, it’s the biggest, baddest beasts that counts. There’s a weird frisson to seeing a big cat or a bad-tempered croc eyeing you up as much as you’re watching them. If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be an item on the breakfast menu, you’re about to find out.

Strictly speaking, of course, our list leaves off many of the mass killers of the animal kingdom: assassin bugs (carriers of Chagas disease, causing around 10,000 human deaths per year), the tsetse fly (African sleeping sickness; 10,000 deaths), the freshwater snail (which causes the parasitic infection bilharzia and acute abdominal pain; 20,000 to 200,000 deaths), and of course mosquitoes (carriers of countless mosquito-borne diseases from malaria to dengue fever; 750,000+ deaths, making it the deadliest of all creatures).

Then again, a holiday watching tsetse flies or snails really doesn’t sound like a great way to spend your money, now does it? We’ll stick with the tigers, hippos and crocs, thanks – so here’s our top twelve of the world’s deadliest animals.

1. Saltwater crocodile

They’ve been around on earth since the Pliocene era, so crocodiles have had plenty of time to evolve into one of Mother Nature’s most efficient killing machines. Reaching up to 6m in length, these monster reptiles lurk in saltwater estuaries and brackish waters from eastern India to southeast Asia and northern Australia. They’ll snack on anything that crosses their path, including humans — around 1,000 people a year are killed by crocs. Kakadu National Park in northern Australia is awash with massive saltwater crocs (this is where Crocodile Dundee was filmed, after all). Cooinda Lodge* runs regular wildlife-spotting tours (guides know the biggest crocs by name).

2. Great white shark

Jaws may have cemented the great white in the world’s imagination as the most terrifying denizen of the deep, but they really don’t deserve their dreaded reputation. Only around 320 great white attacks on humans and 80 fatalities have ever been recorded, making them comparative softies compared to mass killers like the mosquito or tsetse fly. But they certainly look the part: bristling with teeth and sporting that iconic dorsal fin, they’re basically ocean terminators. The cold, deep waters off Cape Town are home to some of the largest great white populations on the planet. False Bay is a hotspot for shark-spotting, but only the hardcore brave a cage dive: with luck, you should be able to spot a great white breaching from the safety of the boat deck.

3. Hippo

It’s the classic pub quiz question — which African animal kills more humans than any other? The rather unexpected answer is, of course, the humble hippopotamus, which despite its lumbering bulk can run at speeds of more than 30mph and has a habit of defending its territory with extreme prejudice (500 unfortunate souls fall foul of the hippo each year). Hippos are best spotted in one of Africa’s game reserves or national parks — Tanzania, Botswana, Kenya and Uganda all have thriving hippo herds, as does South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

4. Tiger

Beauty kills, or so the saying goes, and for no animal is this truer than the tiger. They were once widespread across Southeast Asia, but hunting and habitat loss have devastated their numbers, and these days they are confined to protected wildlife reserves such as India’s Ranthambore in Rajasthan, and Kaziranga in Assam. To see more than a flash of orange in the undergrowth, you’ll definitely need a guide: most of India’s tiger reserves offer jeep safaris.

5. Lion

Of all the animals to spot on safari, it’s the lion that reigns supreme. There’s nothing like the experience of catching sight of your first pride — not in a zoo, or the safety of a wildlife park, but actually out there, roaming free over the savannah, with nothing but a ranger’s know-how to prevent you becoming its next meal. In fact, lion kills are rare — between 50 and 100 deaths across the entire African continent per year (you’re five times more likely to be killed by a hippo). The game reserves of southern and eastern Africa are the best for lion spotting: half of Africa’s lions live in Tanzania, with hotspots including the Selous Game Reserve, Ruaha National Park and the Serengeti.

6. African elephant

On the whole, the supertankers of the African savannah keep themselves to themselves, living in close-knit family groups and avoiding humans at all costs. But human incursion on their habitats is a major cause of conflict, and rogue bulls and cantankerous matriarchs can have nasty tempers — some 500 people per year are trampled by wild elephants. As with the other members of the Big Five, a safari is by far the best way to see them. Botswana’s Chobe National Park has the largest elephant population in Africa, while Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve is also renowned for its jumbos.

7. Grizzly bears

With its distinctive dished face, humped back and long, curved claws, the grizzly or brown bear is one of nature’s most formidable sights. Most of the time grizzlies will be foraging for berries or rooting through the undergrowth for food, but occasionally they cross paths with humans, and the results are rarely good. Brown bears can still be seen in the wild in some areas of Europe, especially Romania, which is home to more than 60 per cent of Europe’s wild bears (around 6,000) — but the largest grizzly populations are found in Alaska and Canada, especially British Columbia. The Khutzeymateen Provincial Park is Canada’s only dedicated grizzly reserve.

8. Poison dart frog

There are more than 170 species of dart frogs, and not all are poisonous — but those that are tend to be seriously lethal. Deadliest of all is the golden poison dart frog, whose toxin is powerful enough to stop a human heart instantly. A single frog contains enough poison to kill up to 20 people. Poison dart frogs are native to many parts of South and Central America, but Costa Rica reigns supreme for the sheer variety of its wildlife: it’s one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Base yourself at eco-lodge Lapa Rios, on the edge of the wildlife-rich Osa Peninsula, which is surrounded by rainforest. Resident guides lead expeditions into the forest to see macaws, monkeys, tree frogs and more.

9. Polar bears

Unsurprisingly, to see a polar bear you’re going to have to get chilly. These ursine Arctic dwellers are a relative of the grizzly bear, and are formidable hunters — they’re most partial to seals, but given the chance they’d be more than happy with a human-flavoured dinner. The town of Churchill in Manitoba is renowned as a polar bear hotspot, with around 800 to 1,000 resident bears, but for Arctic vistas, it’s Norway’s Svalbard archipelago you want.

10. Grey wolf

Wolves once roamed wild over nearly all of Europe, but most packs have long since been hunted to extinction. Slowly, however, thanks to concerted conservation efforts, the wolf is making a comeback: pockets of Eastern Europe, as well as the Italian and French Alps, now have wild wolf populations, but they are elusive and very reclusive. The wild expanses of Scandinavia are a better bet: the forests of Kainuu in Finland are well-known for wolf-watching, although you will need the help of an expert to have any chance of seeing (or even hearing) them.

11. Cape buffalo

Widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, water buffalo are — surprisingly — reputed to have killed more humans than any other animal. Mostly this is because they hang around rivers, lakes and estuaries, where people also gather; but really, one look at those monster horns should tell you all you need to know — this is not a beast to be trifled with. The cape buffalo is perhaps the easiest of the Big Five to spot, but for the classic photo op, the Serengeti plains are hard to beat.

12. Inland taipan

Snakes are, in many senses, cold-blooded killers. Five million snakebites occur around the world every year, with more than 50,000 fatalities — making snakes the third-deadliest animal after mosquitoes and humans. Some 600 species are venomous, but the most lethal of all is the inland taipan, native to central eastern Australia, and known — ominously — as the fierce snake. It’s not a very good idea at all to try and see them in the wild; a better alternative is to drop by the reptile house at Queensland’s Australia Zoo, founded by legendary snake-wrangler Steve Irwin, and now run by his widow Terri.

This article was originally published in The Times.

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