I’m feeling a little guilty. Just a tiny bit. I fell prey to a trend yesterday, and it’s not one to be encouraged. It’s one that the Discovery Channel and National Geographic are absolutely besotted with. Nature, if the TV people (and me) are to be believed, is out to get you. It wants you dead. And your family. And everyone you have ever loved.
It doesn’t, actually. I wrote about an unusual little spate of giraffe attacks yesterday. It was worth writing about, precisely because it has been so unusual. The truth is that giraffes really are gentle creatures at heart. They just happen to be wild animals. Big ones. Ones that have evolved to defend themselves from some fairly robust predators. On the incredibly rare occasions that they do go off the rails, it can get a little scary. But in the larger scheme of things, they simply aren’t dangerous.
This is a Great White shark.
It’s a monster, in the true sense of the word. It’s nearly five metres long and weighs over a thousand kilograms. It can swim at 40km/h and bite you in half without breaking a sweat. It is not dangerous at all.
This is a Grizzly bear.
It’s also a monster, weighing in at over 300 kg. It’s very close to being the biggest predatory mammal in the world. Only Polar bears are bigger. But it’s not dangerous either.
Deer, on the other hand…
The king of the beasts?
Now we’re talking. It’s nearly one twentieth as dangerous as a British staircase.
You see, sharks only kill about eighteen people a year. That’s all sharks, not just Great Whites. It’s not like we’re not giving them the opportunity, either. This is what our beaches look like.
Cows, however, kill 22 people in the US alone.
Grizzly bears don’t even crack the nod for one death a year. Deer? More than 150.
Lions? 50 a year. British staircases? About a thousand.
I’m being slightly disingenuous. Statistics are easy to meddle with. You probably climbed 10 sets of stairs today, and, unless you are from Africa, are unlikely to have ever even seen a wild lion. But the fact remains; there are 7 billion people in the world right now, and if lions kill 50 of them a year, that wouldn’t even appear as a number on a statistician’s radar.
The thing is, we have been the most dangerous animal on the planet for a very long time. Animals are scared of us. Even the big ones. On top of that, the people exposed to wild animals the most tend to be the ones who know how best to behave around them. There are some very dangerous things out there. Hippos kill nearly 3000 people a year in Africa. Snakes kill a lot more. But still not very many in the larger scheme of things. If you want to see something really dangerous, go and take a look in your driveway.
Over 14000 people die on the roads in South Africa every year. And those deer-related deaths I mentioned earlier? Car accidents.
So when you see a show on TV called “Anatomy of a Killer” or “Twelve Deadliest”, or read a blog post about ravening giraffes, take it with a pinch of salt. These things are dangerous, sure. But less dangerous than electricity, and you let that stuff flow around your house.
Don’t think ill of the noble giraffe just because I pointed out they’ve been trying to kill people, is what I’m saying.
Think ill of these guys instead.
If you want a dangerous wild animal to be scared of, those guys kill nearly three million people a year. Which makes your average staircase look as harmless as a bear carrying a shark.