The Actual 10 Most Deadly Animals in Australia

People look upon Australia as the home of every dangerous creature that walks, crawls, or throws telephones at hotel staff. This is true. But anyone with Australian friends – and not just those people you have webcam sex with – will tell you that Aussies seem to survive in spite of all this death.

Like every country, a lot of attention is focused on the stuff that doesn’t actually kill us that much (spiders) rather than stuff that kills most people (being a round, gelatinous ball of lard). So here are the 10 most deadly animals in Australia for 2000-2010 according to the National Coroners Information System of Australia.

10) Emus
Right now you are probably wondering what an emu is and why it killed 5 people. The easiest way to describe the emu is as an Australian version of the ostrich; that is, a long legged, long necked, flightless bird, and being Australian it is likely to be wearing a hat with corks dangling from it and be planning to kill you.

Five people isn’t a huge death toll for an Australian animal, but you have to remember that emus like to live in the middle of the country. You know, the part of Australia that people avoid because it is too hot and lacks beaches. So emus only occasionally have the opportunity to kill people.

9) Crocodiles
If there is a muddy river in Australia there is a good chance there is a crocodile waiting to eat someone. Unfortunately for the crocodiles, Aussies and tourists have gotten wise to their antics after watching Crocodile Dundee and have only been able to snack on 9 people.

Since people are more aware of crocodiles, they now act as sign enforcement officers. Most rivers and water holes have warning signs that tell people not to go swimming on penalty of death. Crocs are there to make sure those signs are enforced.

8) Snakes
Racking up a measly 14 deaths for the decade are venomous snakes. That’s right; Australia is home to pretty much all of the most deadly snakes in the world and they only manage to kill 1.4 people a year.

Australian snakes make all other country’s snakes look more lame than a 50 year old at a nightclub. In other countries snakebite is treated as a painful experience that might require a hospital visit. Might. In the next day or two. In Australia a snakebite is pretty much a death sentence, with snakes ranked in terms of how many minutes you have to get antivenin into your body before you’ll be visiting the morgue.

So why the low death count? Why is one of the most feared animals in a country filled with deadly animals killing so few people? Well, when you live in a country like Australia with so many poisonous critters trying to kill you, the local hospitals, and people who are scared of their own shadows, like to stock up on antivenins. Ambulances are used to bringing some antivenin to you.

The reason snakes don’t kill that many people is down to the way Aussies deal with snakebites. Take the recent example of an average Aussie bloke. The world’s second most deadly snake bites him and he does two things: calls an ambulance and grabs a nice cold beer. Because if you’re going to die, you might as well die refreshed. After dispatching the snake that bit him, the man was cool, calm and collected. If the ambulance didn’t arrive in time, well he’d have enjoyed a beer and the great outdoors. Keeping calm gave the ambulance time to save his life, and enough time to finish his beer.

7 and 6) Sharks and Bees
One is the undisputed apex predator of the World’s oceans, the other likes to give people sweet treats. With 16 deaths each, we see the humble honeybee kill as many people as the desperately-in-need-of-a-hug sharks. I’m sure if we included the deaths from heart disease that bees contribute to with their delicious honey, the bees would rank ahead of the toothy grinned sharks. Even without the heart disease aspect, if we talk long-term averages, honeybees are actually more deadly than sharks in Australia. Bees kill roughly 2 people per year, whilst sharks are only averaging 1 per year.

In the meantime humans are doing their best to wipe out both animals. Sharks are edible, so we kill 100 million of them a year. Colony Collapse Disorder is pretty much a fancy way of saying we are stressing the bees with viruses, diseases, pests, bad food, frequent travel and pesticides, leading to a decline in honey bee numbers.

5) Kangaroo
Stamping its place as the modern day T-Rex, if T-Rexes were vegetarian and spent most of their lives sleeping under a tree, is the kangaroo. With 18 deaths to its name, the kangaroo is getting back at Australians for their love of eating this national icon.

Kangaroos may look loveable and cuddly, but underneath that skin that is ideal for leather shoes, lays a nasty, vicious bully:

Attacks aren’t that common, but they are hilarious to watch.

The real danger to Aussies from kangaroos is on the roads. Roos are fond of hanging out in the middle of traffic, or leaping out in front of passing cars, so much so that they contribute to 5.5% of road deaths. Not to be outdone, Aussies install Roo-Bars to the front of their vehicles to ensure anything they hit – Roos, pedestrians, children – die instantly.

4) Dogs
Australians love their dogs; they even make movies about them and have landmarks devoted to them. One town is famous for its pet cemetery devoted to dogs. But with 27 deaths to their names, Aussie dogs just don’t seem to love their owners back.

In fairness, dogs are doing Aussies a favour, as they tend to kill kids and old people. The family pet is clearly trying to trim down the weaker members of the pack to make the household stronger, as 78% of attacks are by the pet dog. Legislation is trying to weed out the more suspicious looking dogs, but most dog bites are more a result of the owners than of the dog’s breeding or temperament.

3) Cows
Right now you’re about to say, “Is it really true that all Aussie men are as good looking at Hugh Jackman?” Why yes, it is true. But that is off topic. If you were on topic you’d probably be questioning how cows made this list at all. Are they even Australian? And these things aren’t deadly; they are hamburger fillings and animals that make the green stuff on your dinner plate palatable. Yet cows still managed to kill off 33 Aussies and come in as the third deadliest animal in Australia.

It isn’t like cows have guns in Australia, so how can they be the second most deadly animals? Well, much like kangaroos, cows love to spend time hanging out in the middle of roads, probably deciding which side has greener grass, or looking to hitch a ride to the city. And because Aussies love a good steak, there are more cattle in Australia than people, 26.5 million at last count. That’s a lot of cows trying to hitchhike. Cows also happen to be a fair bit larger than the average kangaroo, so Aussie drivers either die crashing into them, or from crashing into a tree when swerving to avoid them.

The other Aussies on the top of the cow’s hit-list is their chief persecutors: farm workers. Being the biggest of farm animals they account for the majority of animal related deaths on farms, usually by crushing people, or at least their limbs.

2) Horses
That’s right, horses! Just let that fact sink in for a moment. Horses have killed 77 people in a decade in Australia. Australia has sharks, crocodiles, snakes, and spiders that are deadly enough to make Rambo look like a cub scout, but horses killed more people than all of those terrifying critters combined.

So how did horses beat out such deadly competition? Well, 92% of those deaths are from horses deciding they’ve had enough of someone sitting on their back. The rest of the time the horses decide that they need to crush or trample people, possibly to see if humans can be made into glue as well.

1) Humans
Was this ever in doubt? Humans are by far the most deadly Aussie animals. When you compare the animal deaths to other causes of death in Australia, like drowning killing 290 per year, or car accidents killing 1200 people per year, it is clear that even the most deadly of Aussie creatures, the horse, just aren’t that deadly.

But Aussies are generally getting better at not killing each other. There are 270 murders per year and this rate has been declining for the past 20 years. If this trend continues, then within a decade all the other animals in Australia may actually kill more Aussies than people murdering each other.

In the meantime, if you want to stay safe in Australia: don’t let a horse drive your car near water while you argue with an Aussie about whether that’s a knife. Safety first.

Update: Okay, so this piece is a few years old now and more recent data is available from a ANHMRC study looking at data from 2000-2013.

Creature Deaths
(2000-2013)
Hospitalisations
(2001-2013)
Snakes 27 6,123
Hornets, wasps and bees 25 bees, 2 wasps 12,351
Spiders 0 11,994
Ticks and ants 5 4,533
Marine animals 3 3,707
Scorpions 0 61
Centipedes / millipedes 0 119
Unknown animal or plant 2 536

Since 2000, 74 people have died from being thrown or trampled by a horse. Twenty-six people have died from shark attack and 23 from altercations with dogs. Crocodiles have been responsible for 19 deaths.

And compared to 4,820 drowning deaths and 974 deaths from burns in the same period, the snake bite figures figures are still remarkably low. (Source)

Horses and humans still on top!!

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Mythtaken: Shark Attack Deaths

Ever since Spielberg made us scared of seeing any more Indiana Jones films, people have felt better about blaming him for the hysteria around sharks.

shark tears

Recently in my home state of Western Australia there has been a decision made to cull sharks because some people have been killed by them. Clearly we should blame sharks for just wanting a hug and not humans for dressing up like shark food. This is a stupid decision and I’m about to outline why we can’t even tell if there have been more shark deaths, let alone whether a cull would actually work, let alone whether you’d know if the cull does anything. It all comes down to statistics. Well, that and media beat-ups to sell advertising space.

You’d honestly think that there had been a change in the number of people dying in Australia from shark attacks in order to justify a shark cull. Well, the official stats show there hasn’t been an increase in deaths from shark attacks. In fact the deaths are so low the noise around the long term average of 1.38 deaths per annum (2000-2012), that any increase or decrease in deaths are impossible to assign any significance to (see chart below). Three deaths in a year (2000): could be an anomaly. Zero deaths the year after (2001): likely to be regression to the mean. Number of deaths from the most ferocious animal on the planet: bees; 10 per year.

Graph of Aussie shark attacks 2000-2012. Blue is total encounters, yellow is non-fatal, red is fatal. Trend lines for total and fatal.
Graph of Aussie shark attacks 2000-2012. Blue is total encounters, yellow is non-fatal, red is fatal. Trend lines for total and fatal.

What you do see in the data is a slight increase in the number of attacks. If you look at the number of attacks and fatalities since 1900, there has been a general increase in the number of shark attacks, but a decrease in the fatalities from shark attacks. It’s almost as though there are more people in the world and more of them bobbing up and down in the ocean in seal costumes, possibly on a tasty cracker.

graph 2 shark attacks since 1900 by decade
International Shark Attack File data, Florida Museum of Natural History

Now this is interesting for the world and Australia, as it appears that despite our best efforts as humans, sharks aren’t taking revenge for the 100 million of them we kill each year. But this is about a shark cull in Western Australia: what’s happening there? Well, these tables say it all really:

Unprovoked Cases Since 1791:

State # Cases Fatal Injured Uninjured Last Fatality
NSW 243 68 (27.9%) 120 55 2013 Coffs Harbour
QLD 251 82 (32.7%) 151 18 2011 Fantome Island
WA 92 20 (21.7%) 57 15 2013 Gracetown
SA 48 18 (37.5%) 23 7 2011 Coffin Bay
VIC 45 9 (20%) 27 9 1987 Mornington Peninsula
TAS 15 3 (20%) 8 4 1993 Tenth Is, Georgetown
NT 10 2 (Duh) 6 2 1938 Bathurst Island
Total 704 202 (28.7%) 392 110 (Revised  28/1/2014)

Provoked Cases Since 1832:

# Cases Fatal Injured Uninjured
Total 190 15 129 46

Western Australia accounts for ~13% of shark attack deaths. When we look at 2012 data we see that WA is having a greater proportion of the Australian attacks and accounts for all the fatalities in Australia. The terms “bigger population”, “longer coastline”, “more cashed up bogans come to mind.

Australian Shark Encounter Statistics for 2012:

State Cases Recorded Fatal Injured Uninjured
NSW 5 0 3 2
QLD 1 0 1 0
SA 1 0 1 0
WA 5 2 2 1
VIC 1 0 1 0
TAS 1 0 1 0
NT 0 0 0 0
TOTAL – Unprovoked 14 2 9 3
TOTAL – Provoked 8 0 5 3
All Cases 22 2 14 6

So there is no actual proof that there are any more deaths occurring from shark attacks, definitely no trend toward more deaths, but a significant increase in the number of media reports on those deaths (citation needed). Even on a state by state basis there isn’t any death trend. But there is a trend towards more shark incidents. What we are actually seeing is an increase in the number of people dressing up like seals/shark food (scuba divers and surfers).

Circumstances affecting shark / human interactions:
The number of shark-human interactions occurring in a given year correlates with human population increases and the amount of time humans spend in the shark’s environment. As Australia’s population continues to increase and interest in aquatic recreation rises, it would realistically be expected that there will be an increase in the number of shark encounters.

Let’s put that in perspective, Australians have a 1 in 3,362 chance of drowning at the beach and a 1 in 292,525 chance of being killed by a shark in one’s entire lifetime. In Australia there are 1.38 deaths per year from sharks, 121 deaths per year from drowning at the beach, and 1,193 deaths per year from driving. We’re more likely to die from all the stupid shit we do, than from sharks. So why have a shark cull?

There is no real reason to have a shark cull. We already kill 100 million of the things annually anyway. What we actually need to do is look at where the sharks are looking for food, has their food moved, if so due to what, and are we seeing less shark food available such that sharks are looking for alternate foods. The shark cull with drum lines and nets is actually likely to kill off dolphins, turtles, rays, and endangered shark species, which is why fisheries researchers don’t support the cull.

Update: I neglected to mention that other states in Australia have been using baiting and nets, in the case of Queensland, since 1962, and since 1937 in New South Wales. Reports are not complimentary of the Queensland nor New South Wales programs. To quote:

…the Fisheries Scientific Committee is of the opinion that the current shark meshing program in New South Wales waters’ adversely affects two or more threatened species, populations or ecological communities and could cause species, populations or ecological communities that are not threatened to become threatened.

And (okay, I’ve cherry picked this a bit, read the whole report on how we are overfishing, killing shitloads of sharks, destroying the fisheries and adding baiting on top of this):

The main pressures on grey nurse sharks appear to be fishing activities and shark control programs……. The biological susceptibility of sharks to over fishing, evidence for increasing fishing pressure and lack of information have given rise to increasing concern about the sharks and rays of the Reef.

Essentially shark baiting, whilst paling in comparison to the 100 million sharks killed for their fins annually, is another pressure that endangered species don’t need. Especially when the baiting is still killing other endangered animals, not just sharks.

For more, read these articles:
https://medium.com/@gidmk/the-trouble-with-risk-7ea70e9afbe8#.hxtx6wimu
https://theconversation.com/wa-shark-frenzy-how-to-stop-a-runaway-train-22669
http://www.nature.com/news/australian-shark-cull-plan-draws-scientists-ire-1.14373
http://www.taasfa.com/No-Shark-Nets.html
https://theconversation.com/western-australias-shark-culls-lack-bite-and-science-21371
https://theconversation.com/cull-or-be-killed-is-this-really-the-solution-to-stop-shark-attacks-3961
https://tysonadams.com/2013/10/16/mythtaken-shark-attacks/
https://tysonadams.com/2011/10/24/shark-attack/

Do wind turbines kill many birds each year?

It has been claimed that due to their large size, and the velocity of their blades that wind turbines kill large numbers of birds that run into them at night, or in fog, and die.

http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/wind-farm-birds112011.html#cr

Do wind turbines kill many birds each year?

Answer:

The simple answer is yes. The more complex answer is that the number of deaths is nothing in comparison to other man made structures and the risks from climate change.

There have been several studies done to find the environmental impact of wind farms on birds. Generally birds lack the ability to dodge humans and their quest for global supremacy. From the American Bird Conservancy there are a list of deaths related to sources as deaths per year in the US:

  • Feral and domestic cats – Hundreds of millions
  • Power lines – 130-174 million
  • Windows – 100 million to 1 billion (NB the high end seems too large to me)
  • Pesticides – 70 million
  • Cars – 60-80 million
  • Lighted communication towers – 40-50 million
  • Wind turbines – 10-40,000 (Table found here)

Obviously wind turbines aren’t as popular as cars, cats and windows, but with the expected increase in wind energy generation, the impacts will likely increase. The thing that has to be borne in mind is that the wind turbines are on an order of magnitude smaller impact than other bird killers. It also has to be remembered that the studies are also showing that newer wind power plants are having less impact on birds due to design upgrades, better placement and better ecological planning.

The real issue here is climate change. Coal power plants kill birds, in fact, they are threatening to wipe out entire species. According to a study reported in Scientific American, at least 950 entire species of terrestrial birds will be threatened with extinction as a result of climate change under several scenarios, even at the lower estimate of temperature gains, just counting species of non-sea birds in the higher latitudes; outside the tropics. Birds in the tropics will be impacted by habitat loss, which brings the total species wiped out to ~1800 (Jetz, Wilcove, and Dobson 2007).

The take home point is that we need clean energy sources to save bird species. Those that fly into turbines each year will be minimised with better designs and locations of turbines. In the meantime, worry about the cats and climate change.

Update: recent studies have shown that birds of prey are more prone to injury and death from wind turbines. Essentially, birds of prey spend a lot of time looking down for prey and not enough time looking where they are going. The usual bird collision rate is 0.08 birds per turbine per day on average (range 0.05–0.19), whilst the ‘smarter’ Eagles are colliding at a rate of 0.112 to 0.133. The study also suggests that bird size and speed of flight are important determinants of collision rates, hence why gliding and hovering prey birds are colliding more often. It is worth bearing in mind that both of these collision rates (that often result in death) still indicate an avoidance rate of 99%.

This avoidance rate is important to compare to the relative deaths per gigawatt-hour of the power sources to realise that wind power is still a very good option. This study estimates that wind farms and nuclear power stations are responsible each for between 0.3 and 0.4 fatalities per gigawatt-hour of electricity while fossil-fueled power stations are responsible for about 5.2 fatalities per gigawatt-hour. Thus, wind turbines could do with some investigation into how to make them safer for birds, but they are already a much better option than fossil fuels.

Update #2: an Australian researcher has recently done an interview on Ockham’s Razor (an ABC science show) to dispel some of the bird myths surrounding wind turbines.

Update #3: Teale commented via Facebook that the upscaling of power generation by wind hasn’t really changed the annual bird deaths per MW/hr despite the increase in the number of wind turbines and areas with wind farms. The bird deaths are ~33,000 pa, which is still in the range cited by the American Bird Conservationists from a few years ago, and the power generated has increased to ~4%. Again we come back to the point above about what other power generation and mining does to birds is a much larger impact. Remove them and the wind turbines can get a lot more prevalent and still not have the same impact. (NB: there may be some circular referencing going on between the sources in this article, so if this is the case,  please send through any revised data sources, especially on data changes with time).

http://www.fws.gov/birds/mortality-fact-sheet.pdf 

http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/pressrel/11-64.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_the_United_States