Australia undeniably boasts the most venomous and deadliest creatures on Earth. We have an assortment of brown snakes, red-bellied black snakes, funnel-web spiders, box jellyfish, great white sharks and crocodiles to name but a few.
So it may come as a surprise to learn that Australia’s most dangerous animal – that is, the animal responsible for the most human deaths – is none of the above.
Here we look at the most dangerous animals by fatalities:
While certainly not the most feared animal in Australia, the humble bee makes the list as a top-five contender.
According to National Coronial Information System (NCIS) data, bees were the direct cause of 16 deaths between 2000 and 2010, and affected mostly mature-aged people between 40 and 59. Deaths were primarily related to victims suffering anaphylactic shock due to an existing allergy.
It goes to show, allergies have to be taken seriously. Keep that EpiPen close by if you’re tending to the rose bush. The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy has some excellent advice on minimising the risk to you or your children here.
Hold up, Skippy! This Australian icon is known for its boxing instincts – but in fact this ‘punching’ with the front legs is reasonably harmless. Its the powerful hind legs with long sharp claws that can be damaging to humans if the kangaroo feels threatened or cornered.
Kangaroos directly caused 18 deaths in the decade to 2010. And this excludes the number of driver-related road deaths caused by kangaroos on our roads. If these were included in the NCIS data, it’s likely they’d feature much higher on the list.
We all know someone who owns one, and there may even be one in your backyard. Nevertheless, pooches were responsible for the deaths of 27 Australians from 2000 to 2010.
Male victims were twice as likely to be killed compared to females, based on NCIS data. Quite sadly, most victims are children and the elderly.
Owners of dangerous dogs have a series of obligations to make sure that members of the public are not attacked with penalties for noncompliance. In Victoria, owners can be jailed for up to 10 years if their dog kills someone, or for up to five years if their dog endangers someone's life.
Cows and bulls
These gentle giants are often the butt of practical jokes and tall tales involving tipping as they sleep on their four feet. But don’t anger a cow or you might just get trampled. In fact, cows and bulls accounted for the second-highest rate of Australian deaths. In the decade to 2010, 33 people were directly killed by a cow, bull or bovine.
So if you’re working out in the fields, be nice to Bessie, and take that ladder off her head.
And the number one killer in Australia? The humble horse
You might have guessed it by now, but yes, horses, ponies and donkeys cause the most animal-related deaths in Australia.
In the decade to 2010, a whopping 77 lives were taken by these beautiful and mostly gentle creatures.
Most deaths occurred in the 20-39 age bracket, followed by those aged 40-59. Males were also more commonly victims than females. This statistic might reflect the demographic of many rural farm workers.
What can you do about it?
While accidents can happen, there are legal ramifications for owners of livestock and pets who negligently allow their animals to roam, trespass and attack others – whether intentionally or not.
All occupiers owe a duty of care to others on their premises, as well as a duty to maintain control of their pet while away from their premises. This extends to taking reasonable steps to prevent an animal under a person’s control from causing harm. Simple steps like keeping your dog on a leash or locking pets safely away from visitors can save you thousands of dollars in a lawsuit for negligence, nuisance or cattle trespass.
Also be mindful that there are severe criminal penalties for the keeping of dangerous animals in breach of statutory requirements. It is also an offence to train a dog to ‘attack’ someone, or set them on attack. But be aware that animal owners have a defence of contributory negligence where a person deliberately puts themselves in harm's way. A person assaulting an animal to the point that it reacts in self-defence would be one example.
Next time you’re worried about what’s potentially lurking outside, remind yourself that you’d sooner be killed by an animal in your own backyard. Put your worries away and enjoy Australia's creatures big and small.