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UC Santa Barbara Geography / News & Events / Department News

April 25, 2013 - Forget Sharks—Cows Are More Likely To Kill You

Actually, you could argue that deer are more likely to kill you than any other animal (apart from your fellow man), at least in the U.S. According to “11 animals more likely to kill you than sharks,” an oft-repeated Mother Nature Network article on the internet, the most likely animals to kill you, are 1) mosquitoes, 2) hippos, 3) deer, 4) bees, 5) dogs, 6) ants, 7) jellyfish, 8) cows, 9) horses, 10) spiders, and 11) rattlesnakes. On average, < 1 person per year is killed by a shark in the U.S. (and < 6 worldwide).

The article referenced above doesn’t limit its listed killers to the U.S., and some of its assertions are debatable. For example, it’s not the mosquito itself that kills people, but a species of Plasmodium, a microorganism that infects female mosquitoes and causes malaria when introduced to a person’s bloodstream via a mosquito bite. Similarly, the article lists deer as the number 3 killer, but the actual cause of death is the result of drivers hitting deer with their cars. If we restrict the list to U.S. deaths and omit mosquitoes and deer, the listing becomes 1) bees (53 deaths each year in the U.S.), 2) dogs (30-35 deaths), 3) cows (22), 4) horses (20), 5) spiders (6.5), and 6) rattlesnakes (5.5). Yep – you are 10 times more likely to die in the U.S. because of a bee sting than a bite from a rattler and 22 times more likely to be killed by a cow than by a shark.

Using statistics from the Center for Disease Control, J.A. Forrester, C.P. Holstege, and J.D. Forrester conducted a more scientific investigation of human fatalities from animals in the U.S. (“Fatalities From Venomous and Nonvenomous Animals in the United States (1999-2007),” published in Wilderness and Environmental Medicine, June 2012). “The CDC WONDER Database was queried to return all animal-related fatalities between 1999 and 2007. Rates for animal-related fatalities were calculated using the estimated 2003 US population. Inclusion criteria included all mortalities that were a consequence of bite, contact, attack, or envenomation…There were 1802 animal-related fatalities with the majority coming from nonvenomous animals (60.4%). The largest percentage (36.4%) of animal-related fatalities was attributable to “other mammals,” which is largely composed of farm animals.”

The results of the study by Forrester et al. for the 7-year period, from highest to lowest (source), are:

  • #1. The number of deaths that resulted from interactions with other mammals, a category that includes cats, cows, horses, pigs, raccoons, and other hoofed animals: 655. The biggest bringers of death are cows and horses.
  • #2. The number of deaths that resulted from interactions with hornets, wasps, or bees: 509.
  • #3. The number of deaths that resulted from interactions with dogs: 250.
  • #4. The number of deaths that resulted from interactions with nonvenomous insects or nonvertebrates: 85.
  • #5. The number of deaths that resulted from interactions with non-venomous reptiles. This would include lizards and non-venomous snakes and the cause of death being bitten or crushed by the animal: 77.
  • #6. The number of deaths that resulted from interactions with venomous spiders: 70.
  • #7. The number of deaths that resulted from other venomous arthropods such as fire ants: 63.
  • #8. The number of deaths that resulted from interactions with venomous snakes or lizards: 59.
  • #9. The number of deaths that resulted from interactions with marine animals: 10, 8 of them from sharks.
  • #10. The number of deaths that resulted from interactions with crocodiles and alligators: 9.

The study concluded by stating: “Prevention measures aimed at minimizing injury from animals should be directed at certain high-risk groups such as farmworkers, agricultural workers, and parents of children with dogs.” “A disproportionate number of fatalities result from animal encounters in the South. This region is one that could possibly benefit from improved education about risky animal encounters, as well as legislation to reduce potentially fatal encounters. Interactions in the agricultural environment, preventive techniques and rapid treatment for those exposed to hornets, wasps, and bees, and preventing encounters between children and potentially aggressive canines represent 3 possible arenas for improvement.”

Article by Bill Norrington

Image 1 for article titled "Forget Sharks—Cows Are More Likely To Kill You"
Cows kill about 22 people in the U.S. every year. “From 2003 to 2007, the US Department of Labor recorded an average of 21.6 cattle-related deaths per year, for a total of 108…the odds of a human being killed by a cow are increased mainly by being a farmer, male, and over 60. That's still nothing compared to a cow's odds of being killed by a human” (http://bookofodds.com/Accidents-Death/Accidental-Deaths/Articles/A0252-Behind-the-Numbers-Death-by-Cow) (the source of the doctored image above is unknown)
Image 2 for article titled "Forget Sharks—Cows Are More Likely To Kill You"
A pit bull, muzzled (Wikipedia: Pit bull). In 2012, 38 dog attacks in the U.S. resulted in the death of 19 children and 19 adults. In the 8-year period from 2005 to 2012, pit bulls killed 151 Americans, about one citizen every 19 days (2012 Dog Bite Fatalities by DogsBite.org, 2013).
Image 3 for article titled "Forget Sharks—Cows Are More Likely To Kill You"
A great white shark scavenging on a whale carcass (Wikipedia: Great white shark). The articles cited rate U.S. fatalities due to sharks at about one or less per year. The most recent fatalities were caused by a bull shark in Florida in 2010, a great white shark in California in 2010, and another great white in California in 2012. Both of the California fatalities occurred at Surf Beach near Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.
Image 4 for article titled "Forget Sharks—Cows Are More Likely To Kill You"
Francisco Javier Solario was the most recent victim of a fatal shark attack, caused by what is believed to be a 15-16 foot great white; Solario’s board, with the shark bite mark, is pictured above.
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