The Deadliest Animals on Earth, Ranked
There are a few primordial human fears that supersede all the others. Heights, drowning, tight spaces, fire. But there is probably no fear stronger than the one we feel in the presence of animals that can kill us.
The creatures on this list are all confirmed killers. Some of them are more accomplished than others. You’ll see all the mainstays that you’d expect to see, as well as a few surprises that may make you a little more uneasy in your day to day life.
While it’s never a good idea to get overly familiar with animals, these ones are especially dangerous to pal around with. Of course, most animal encounters end peacefully. However, animal attacks are a more serious public health hazard than you might think. Every year, thousands of people around the world die from injuries incurred during an animal attack.
Interestingly, it is very rare for an animal to deliberately attack a human with the intention to kill and eat them. There are exceptions. Tigers, for instance, are notorious for being one of the only predators to adopt people as a regular prey animal.
We have presented the deadliest animals in the world, in ascending likelihood of them potentially killing you. Each creature’s name is followed by an estimate of how many people they kill every year, globally.
Cougar, 1 Or Fewer
Cougars, also known as mountain lions, are feared by hikers, campers and mountain bikers across North America. They have accounted for many deaths, but attacks are surprisingly rare. Mountain lions typically kill a person in North America once every few years. Most recently, a man named Robert Nawojski was attacked and killed by a mountain lion near his home in Pinos Altos, New Mexico. His body was not found for several days. Cougar attacks are most common in late spring and early summer, when juveniles separate from their mothers and establish their own territory. Like bears, “subadult” or adolescent cougars are more dangerous than cubs or adults.
Coyote, 1 Or Fewer
Coyote attacks are very rare, but are becoming less rare as coyote populations increase in urban areas. There are two known cases of coyotes attacking and killing humans. It is unclear whether the majority of “coyote” attacks reported are by true coyotes, or by coyote-wolf hybrids called “coywolves.” In the United States, the majority of known coyote attacks have occurred in Los Angeles city limits. Coyotes are an “anthropophilic” species, meaning they flourish in urbanized environments. As they become more conditioned to being around humans, they are also becoming bolder. Hopefully this does not translate to an uptick in coyote attacks.
Cassowary, 1 Or Fewer
The cassowary is an extremely large and aggression-prone bird that’s native to New Guinea. They are known to charge people, especially people who routinely feed them. There have been about 150 known cassowary attacks on humans, and only one of them was fatal. It happened in 1926.
Swan, 1 Or Fewer
Yep, seriously. Swans are very large birds, and, like many other birds, defend their nests violently if they feel their young are in danger. An Illinois man named Anthony Hensley was drowned in 2012 when two swans protecting a nest flipped his kayak over. Swans are also very strong – strong enough to break human bones.
Elk, 1 Or Fewer
Elk attacks on humans are extremely rare. Elks are, however, one of the largest animals in North America, typically weighing between 300 and 700 pounds. Two deaths from elk attack have occurred in recent years. Both were trampling deaths, occurring in 2011 and 2012.
Housecats, 1 Or Fewer
Sure, if you went head to head with your cat, there’s virtually no chance of them being able to inflict a fatal blow. However, cat bites can be vectors for deadly diseases. Cats are also known for occasionally (accidentally) suffocating infants by laying on their faces. Thankfully, it’s rare.
Jaguar, 1 Or Fewer
Jaguars are typically much kinder to people than other members of the Panthera genus (which includes lions, tigers and cheetahs). However, attacks are increasing as their habitat and prey supply decreases. Most attacks are still on zookeepers. Interestingly, jaguars were much more predatory towards humans during conquistador times.
Dingos, 1 Or Fewer
The dingo, a wild dog of Australia, attacks humans very rarely. There have been two confirmed deaths by dingo attack, both of them young children. One occurred in 2001, and the other in 1980. The 1980 case was covered globally, as the victim’s mother was falsely accused of murder.
Rhinoceros, 1 Or Fewer
For such a huge animal that has a reputation for belligerence, the rhino is surprisingly benign when it comes to risk of attack. There are about two rhino attacks reported per year, and most of them are not fatal. Rhino deaths do occur, but are very rare.
Komodo Dragon, 1 Or Fewer
Komodo dragons rarely attack people, but there have been fatalities reported. Between 1974 and 2012, there were 24 attacks in Komodo National Park. Five of them were deadly. Komodo dragons have saliva that carries a very dangerous payload of bacteria that renders the huge lizard effectively venomous.
Yellow Jacket, 1 Or Fewer
They may look fearsome, but the common yellowjacket is far less dangerous than their smaller cousin the honeybee, or other species of wasp. There have been three recorded deaths from yellowjacket stings in the United States since 1998.
Chimpanzees used to be considered harmless and fun-loving. Now, they’re more synonymous with violence. While attacks on humans are rare, they do happen. One infamous chimp, nicknamed Saddam, terrorized remote Ugandan villages in the mid nineties, killing at least two children. There was also a spate of chimp attacks in the Congo in response to habitat loss.
As proven by River Monsters, fish can be potentially deadly to people, whether through predatory behavior or by accident. Not including sharks, fish take human lives on a fairly regular basis. The most dangerous offenders include piranha, catfish, arapaima and stingrays.
The humble moose is technically the most dangerous animal in North America. There are more moose attacks in Alaska than bear and wolf attacks combined. Most moose attacks don’t result in death, but occasionally they do. More deaths are actually caused by auto collisions with mooses than attacks.
Brown Bear, 2
Although they are one of the most feared animals in the world, brown bears are actually exceptionally unlikely to attack and kill a human. There are typically between one and three attacks every year in North America. While there are recorded cases of unprovoked, predatory attacks on humans by brown bears, the majority of attacks are the result of human provocation.
In 2016, alligators made headlines around the world when one of the house gators at a Walt Disney World hotel attacked and killed a two year old boy. The chances of having a bad run-in with one in the wild are extremely low, but that low number is rising every year as their population expands. 2016 saw three fatal alligator attacks, but there haven’t been any reported since.
It’s hard to imagine an animal more benign-looking than an ostrich. Believe it or not, about two or three people die every year from ostrich attack. They have extremely long claws, that can easily disembowl. Thankfully, they only attack when they’re cornered or if their young are threatened.
Wolves were, like most animals, significantly more dangerous before we had modern weaponry. In France, there were an estimated 7,600 fatal wolf attacks between 1200 and 1920. That number is way down. In 2017, there were only 15 confirmed wolf attacks on humans. Rabies explains a large proportion of wolf attacks. Most fatal wolf attacks actually occur in Asia.
Moon Bear, 5
Asian black bears, also called moon bears, are much more dangerous than North American and European bears. In Japan, five people were killed by black bears in 2016. Asian black bears are thought to be atypically (for bears) prone to aggression due to their range overlapping with tigers.
Bulls are notorious for being territorial and short-tempered. They deserve the reputation, posing the biggest animal-related safety hazard to farmers and other people who encounter livestock regularly. Every year, four or five people are killed by cattle, and most of those deaths are caused by bulls.
Maneating leopards are very rare, but also exceptionally terrifying. Two famous individual leopards, both in India, account for 125 and 400 human victims. They are smarter, faster and deadlier than tigers, and are known to travel deep into human settlements. Leopard attacks are especially common in India.
Spiders, 6 (In US)
Thanks to the prevalence of antivenin medication, spider bite fatalities are way down in the first world. Reliable statistics about global spider bite deaths are very hard to come by. In the United States, about six people are killed by spiders every year. The international figure is assuredly larger.
Shark attacks are one of those things that people love to pretend not to be worried about. But they do happen. The International Shark Attack File recently released a report detailing their investigation of 155 reported shark attacks from around the world in 2017. They found that 88 were unprovoked shark attacks on humans and 30 were provoked attacks, meaning the human started it.
Sloth Bears, 5-10
Sloth Bears, native to the Indian subcontinent, are the world’s most dangerous species of bear. While they rarely become man-eaters, they are prone to aggression. In some parts of India, sloth bears are considered more dangerous than tigers. Between 1989 and 1994, the Madhya Pradesh province of India saw 48 deaths and 686 injuries from sloth bear attacks.
Hyenas are typically reluctant to have any contact with living people, though they are notorious for scavenging human remains. They do have the potential of becoming man-eaters, with some notorious examples from history like the “Malawi terror beast,” which killed three people and injured fifteen more.
About thirty people die from ant attack every year. Of the roughly 12,000 known ant species, about 280 of them are potentially deadly to people. Yes, they are small. But things get serious when the hive gets involved. A single ant hive can harbor as many as twenty million individual members.
Asian Giant Hornets, 40
The Asian giant hornet, charmingly nicknamed the “yak-killer hornet,” is the largest hornet on the planet. A subspecies called the Japanese giant hornet kills between thirty and forty people a year in Japan. In China, the figure is similar.
Figures about annual bee fatalities on a global level are hard to come by, but research indicates that about a hundred people in North America are killed by bee sting every year. A healthy person can easily tolerate a bee sting, or even hundreds of bee stings, without it being life threatening. However, bee venom is a very common allergy, and it’s the allergic reaction that kills. Africanized honeybees are especially deadly.
Box Jellyfish, 100
The box jellyfish is a truly terrifying creature. Its sting is described as the most painful event a human being can undergo. Box jelly venom is so potent that, if untreated, it can result in death in two to five minutes. Victims often die before they can swim back to shore.
African Buffalo, 200
Also called “the Black Death” or “widowmaker,” the African Buffalo (alt. Cape Buffalo) kills an estimated 200+ people every year. African Buffalo are feared and respected by big game hunters. They are known to hide and then ambush hunters if they’re shot non-fatally.
Deer attacks are uncommon, but do occur. They are almost never fatal. Nevertheless, many people consider the deer to be North America’s most dangerous animal. You’ve probably guessed why already. Every year, auto collisions with deer cause about 200 deaths, putting them head and shoulders above any other animal for annual fatalities.
Lions, like tigers, have a history of targeting humans as prey animals. One pride in Tanzania killed an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 people over the course of three generations. Tragically, Mozambican refugees crossing Kruger National Park in South Africa at night are regularly killed and eaten by lions.
The tiger is the mammal species that is most likely to predate humans. One study estimates that between 1800 and 2009, tigers killed 373,000+ people. South and Southeast Asia are the worst hotspots for tiger attacks, especially the Sundabarans region of Bangladesh and India. Tigers are exceptionally perceptive, able to identify whether a person is armed or not. Attacks are on the rise and occur on a virtually daily basis.
Elephants are one of the most intelligent animals in the world and also, surprisingly, one of the most deadly. Deaths from rampaging elephants are rising, as their habitat shrinks. An estimated 500 people die every year from elephants, though that estimate is conservative.
Hippos, like elephants, are extremely dangerous to people. Like elephants, they kill something like 500 people every year, though hippo attacks aren’t as well studied as elephant attacks.
Crocodiles are closely related to alligators but are vastly more dangerous, especially Nile Crocodiles. Nile crocs are considered one of the most dangerous predatory animals in the world. Because many attacks go unreported, it’s hard to give a hard number of how many occur yearly. One researcher estimates that crocodiles account for about one thousand human deaths per year.
There are an estimated 1.2 million scorpion stings per year, leading to an average of 3,250 deaths. There are over a thousand scorpion-related deaths in Mexico alone every year. In the United States, by comparison, there have only been 4 scorpion deaths in the past 11 years.
Domestic Dogs, 25,000+
Believe it or not, domestic dogs are one of the deadliest animals in the world. About 25,000 people die annually from dog bites, with about 90% of those deaths resulting from rabies. The disease is still a significant problem in the developing world.
Snakes, 94,000 – 125,000
According to the World Health Organization, about five million people are bit by snakes every year. Between 94,000 and 125,000 of them die as a consequence. Short of death, snakebites also spread disease and can result in amputation. Southeast Asia and Africa are the biggest hot spots for snake fatalities.
Tsetse Fly, 50,000 – 500,000
The tsetse fly is the primary carrier of Human African Trypanosomiasis, also called Sleeping Sickness, a deadly disease that kills up to 500,000 people every year. Tsetses are ubiquitous in Africa, and, like mosquitoes, are a blood-sucking insect. The boom in tsetse flies is a direct consequence of an enormous livestock die-off in the 1800s caused by a disease called rinderpest.
The mosquito is the single deadliest creature on the planet, thanks to its role in spreading malaria. The malaria epidemic kills upwards of a million people every year. Malaria is just one of the diseases borne by mosquitoes – others include yellow fever, dengue fever and the Zika virus.