Jan 12, 2016

The Truth About Australian Wildlife

I'm back!  And it's time to talk Australia.  So... you may have read Kristen's post about Australian myths that aren't true.  And as an expat, who better to give us the scoop on Australia?  But, and I hope she doesn't hate me after this post, there was just one myth that I felt deserved a closer look.

Australia is Trying to Kill You

Now, I fully agree with Kristen's post when she said the urban areas are perfectly safe.  Despite the posts on Reddit, we didn't run across snakes, spiders, or anything remotely dangerous in our hotel rooms or in the cities.  But I remain fascinated by Australia's wildlife (and animals in general), so I thought I'd do some research to see if the whole "Australia is super hardcore and dangerous" cliche holds any weight.

Some of the posters in the "Surviving Australia" exhibit in Sydney's Natural History Museum.  I felt I was getting mixed messages.

The main question I had: Is Australia's wildlife actually more dangerous than other countries?  The facts...

Venomous Creatures

Fact #1: Australia is one of the 10 countries with the highest number of venomous species.  Those 10 countries are marked as "over 50," while the US trails behind at "30-40."  Highest number of venomous creatures by continent: Australia, South America, Asia, North America, and in last place, Africa.  (Europe doesn't even get a mention.)

Fact #2: Of the 10 most poisonous/venomous creatures in the world, Australia is home to 4 of them.  Although the same can be said for Asia.  Africa and South America trail behind with 1 each and North America and Europe don't even make the list.  Note: this article talks about poison and venom, but the difference is death by ingesting something vs death by being bitten.

Fact #3 aka Fun Tangent!: On that previous list, the most venomous snake in the world is the inland taipan, which lives in Australia.  A single bite contains enough venom to kill 100 adult men, BUT there are no recorded deaths because it's shy and avoids people.

Sharks

Australia has the highest total number of fatal shark attacks.  To be fair, the US outstrips everyone in total number of attacks (Hawaii even has it's own category), but of 1,241 attacks, only 45 were fatal, whereas of Australia's 665 attacks, 232 were fatal (1/3-ish).  Also notable: Africa with 94 fatal attacks of 346 total.

Birds

After hearing about swooping season, I thought Australia would have more dangerous birds, but a list of the 10 most dangerous birds (opinion article) is spread pretty evenly.  The US boasts several of these species (swans, owls, and hawks, oh my), and Europe finally has a mention!  After researching each species, here are the numbers that were worth mentioning:
  • Cassowaries (South America) - 1 documented death
  • Ostriches (Africa) - 2-3 (estimated) deaths per year
  • Magpies (Australia) - hundreds of attacks per year, but less than 10 injuries per year caused by the birds (more injuries caused by cyclists being startled and falling off their bikes)
  • Mute swan (US and Europe) - 1 documented death and the occasional attack.
Also, we apparently have "swooping seasons" of our own in the US, we just haven't given them a name, nor do we have advice articles written about how to handle it.  I could claim that as my evidence, but I'm trying to stick with numbers, so we'll call it a draw.

Overall Death by Animals

After a while I realized that "deadly" is rather subjective and the best way to measure is by actual death toll.  These are the critters that actually kill the highest number of people each year.
  • Snakes: 50,000+ (with the most going to the Asian cobra - Southeastern Asia)
  • Scorpions: 5,000+ (75% to the Deathstalker scorpion - Africa and the Middle East)
  • Crocodiles: 2,000+ (Asia, Australia, Africa)
  • Elephants: 500 (India and Africa)
  • Hippos: 300 (Africa)

Not too many fingers pointing at Australia now... These stats make Asia and Africa look like the more dangerous places.  Here's the stats for the top killer on each continent.
  • Asia: 15,000, cobra
  • Africa: 750, puff adder
  • Australia: 500, crocodiles
  • North America: 5-15, 3 way tie between rattlesnake, coral snake, and great white sharks
  • South America: 0-5, piranha
  • Europe: 0-5, tie between wolf and asp viper

The Results

In comparison to Asia, Australia's starting to look awfully friendly!  Pretty much everywhere that doesn't have cobras is looking tame compared to that death rate.  To sum up:
  • Asia is trying to kill you.
  • Snakes are the ones you need to look out for.
  • Except in Africa.  Africa is more likely to stomp, chomp, gore, or trample you.

I was going to come up with some sort of hypothesis for why people (especially Redditors) are perpetuating the "Australia is trying to kill you" joke, but the more I educate myself, the less reasons I can think of.  Sure, some of their stuff is pretty strange-looking to Americans and Europeans (platypus, echidna), and they do things differently than our mammals (marsupials and egg-laying mammals), BUT I'd have to imagine a buffalo or a manatee looks pretty strange to someone who didn't grow up in the US and different doesn't always mean dangerous.

Of course there's all the fuzzy, cute looking animals like kangaroos and koalas and then you read stories about them biting or attacking people.  But all wild animals are dangerous.  People think moose look friendly, but they're very unpredictable, and squirrels look like adorable little herbivores, but they kill and eat birds when they can.

So I guess the moral of the story is all wildlife can be dangerous.  It's not your cat or dog so don't expect it to act like it.  But as long as you maintain some common sense, you'll be fine and there's no reason to be especially afraid of them.  Except for snakes.  Your fear of snakes is totally justified.

What nature facts do you find fascinating?  Any other thoughts on the "Australia is trying to kill you" thing?


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5 comments:

  1. YES. thank you. a) buffalo are SUPER weird. I had no idea they were even real until I saw one, so there's that.
    The stereotype that everything is trying to kill you really gets on my nerves, I have no idea why. Basically like you said, just because we have deadly animals doesn't mean they actually kill anyone. So there, reddit people. Also, woah. Asia is scary. I knew that about hippos, isn't that crazy? I can't say Africa is on my list of places to visit, lol. Actually, kidding, I would love to go there.
    Love this post girl :)

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  2. Swans are THE DEVIL I'm not surprised that made the US list.
    I think Australia is trying to kill you solely because I watched a thing on the Discovery channel about the 10 deadliest creatures in the world and every other one I was like 'JESUS Australia again?!' It was at least half.

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  3. Snakes terrify the shit out of me and they are basically everywhere. Except maybe Antarctica? LOL You have so many cool facts though, I really enjoyed reading this! Everyone stop hating on Australia!

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  4. Eek! All those snake stats are creepy. I really wish they just didn't exist period. lol I am glad to see Australia isn't killing anyone though :)

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  5. So much great information here! I guess Australia really isn't trying to kill you! Annnnd good thing I have no upcoming trips to Asia planned because now I'm scared lol.

    So no flying spiders, then? And did you happen to see the quokka?

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