When we think of deadly animals, the first image that might come to mind is of a lion, blood dripping from its mouth and a mangled animal beneath him. The truth, though, is that as horrific as deaths from carnivorous mammals might be, the number of such fatalities is small — very small — compared to the carnage wrought by some of the smallest of beings.
Flies, snakes, snails, and mosquitoes deliver parasites, viruses, and venom to tens of millions of people each year, with a large percentage of the victims dying as a result. (They may not always be deadly, but these are the most devastating invasive species around the world.)
In a 2016 blog post provocatively titled “Why I’d Rather Cuddle with a Shark Than a Kissing Bug,” Bill Gates presented a punchy interactive article about human deaths caused by animals.
He compiled his data from a variety of sources including the World Health Organization, National Geographic, National Science Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others.
The obvious lesson from Gates’s computations is that human/animal interactions result in death most dramatically and devastatingly in the most impoverished places in the world. This is so because living conditions create danger through many means: poor sanitation, polluted water, inadequate health care, lack of education, and changing climate. (These are the world’s poorest countries.)
Gates notes that all his calculations have “a wide margin of error,” and indeed 24/7 Tempo found wild discrepancies in the number of estimated deaths associated with each animal listed. In many cases, accurate records are simply not available; hundreds of thousands of the estimated deaths occur where no reliable health systems exist.