Nature's Most Notorious Man-Eaters
Killings by a tiger in northern India reveal how circumstances can cause predators to develop a taste for humans.Getty Images
Although deadly attacks on humans are rare, some animals have shown a taste for people. These fatal meetings are sometimes driven by negative encounters with humans, while others are driven by starvation.
Earlier this year, a killer tiger stalked the villages of north India. The female killed at least nine people, all of them poor villagers living on the fringes of one of the world's last wild tiger habitats.
But the tiger that prowled India is dwarfed by some of the animals on this list, in both size and body count.
Last year in in New Brunswick, Canada, a 14-foot African rock python constricted two brothers, killing them. The snake had escaped from its cage in an upstairs apartment, reported the Guardian, and entered the room with the boys through the ceiling. The children had been playing with goats on a farm earlier that day. The snake may have confused them for goats, or simply panicked after falling through the ceiling and latched onto anything nearby. In another tragic case, an African rock python killed and ate a 10-year-old boy near Durban, South Africa.
Pythons may not be the only big snakes to prey on humans. Paul Rosolie, a herpetologist and naturalist, relates this week in a Discovery News Q&A that he has heard accounts of anacondas eating humans. To draw attention to the need for conservation in the Amazon rainforest and protection of its endangered species, Rosolie, wearing a special suit, let himself be swallowed and regurgitated by an anaconda. The footage can be seen Sunday at 9 PM ET/8C.
An African crocodile opens its mouth beside the Chobe River.Winfried Wisniewski/Corbis
In the central African nation of Burundi, hundreds of deaths have been attributed to Gustave, a male Nile crocodile, reports National Geographic. The reptile plies the waters of the Ruzizi River and Lake Tanganyika. The animal is estimated to be 20 feet long and weighs approximately 1 ton. Distinctive bullet and blade scars pock Gustave's tough skin and make him recognizable, but no one has managed to capture or kill him. The last confirmed sighting was in 2008 by a National Geographic correspondent. The colossal croc may still be on the lam.
Lions rank high in the list of Earth's top human-hunting predators. In 1991, a male lion began a killing spree in Mfuwe, a settlement in eastern Zambia in east Africa. The lion killed six people, starting with a boy walking with his friend at night, reported Scientific American. The victim's friend escaped and returned with a park ranger, but only scraps of clothing and a skull fragment remained. After another attack, the lion stole his victim's laundry bag and paraded around the countryside playing with the bag. An American hunter, Wayne Hosek, ended the lion's rampage with a bullet. The taxidermied Mfuwe lion now stands on display at the Field Museum of Chicago.
Not only did they kill a baby, dingos framed an Australian mother for infanticide in 1980. While on a camping trip with her parents, 2-month-old Azaria Chamberlain disappeared into the brush in the jaws of a dingo near Ayers Rock, or Uluru, in northern Australia. In 1982, the baby's mother, Lindy, took the rap for the death and eventually went to prison. In 1986, a scrap of the baby's clothing turned up near a group of dingo dens. An appeals court reexamined the case and released Lindy in 1988. However, not until 2012 did an official coroner’s report register dingo attack as the baby's cause of death.
Sloth bears normally attack nothing larger than the termites they pry out of their nests. But their long claws also make strong weapons. Sloth-bear attacks on humans increased to 26 last year in India. Wildlife managers believe loss of habitat drives much of the increasing human-bear conflict.
In 1957, a sloth bear attacked and killed at least 12 people in Mysore State, India, according to big-game hunter Kenneth Anderson in his book "Man-Eaters and Jungle Killers." Three of the victims were partially eaten. Anderson himself killed the marauding bruin, which he believed had been injured by humans and became hyper aggressive as a result.
A leopard looks on from its enclosure in the South Khairbari nature park.Corbis
"Man-Eaters and Jungle Killers" author Kenneth Anderson made a specialty of hunting man-eaters in India. In one incident, the magistrate in charge of two villages asked Anderson to find a killer leopard responsible for 42 deaths. After finding and killing the predator, an examination of the dead leopard revealed porcupine quills lodged in its front paw. The cat had lost the speed needed to catch normal prey, such as deer, and turned to raiding villages. Anderson then learned that leopard first feasted on cholera victims' corpses left in the woods until it lost its fear of humans.
The real-life inspiration for Peter Benchley's book "Jaws" occurred in July of 1916 when shark attacks killed four people along the New Jersey coast.
Several sharks may have borne the responsibility and some of them may have been bull sharks. Although shark attacks are rare on the Jersey Shore, a heat wave may have allowed greater numbers of sharks to move north. Fishermen killed numerous sharks after the attack began, including a 9-foot great white with 15 pounds of human remains in its stomach, according to the book “Twelve Days of Terror” by Richard Fernicola. The Discovery Channel aired a movie by the same name.
Between 1990 and 2005, lions killed 563 people in Tanzania, Africa, reported a paper in Nature. One of those lions stalked Rufiji, Tanzania, from 2002 to 2004, killing an estimated 50 people. The lion received the moniker Osama, after the infamous terrorist. Osama stalked the region until he was shot in 2004.
Normally, old or sick males that have been cast out of their prides make a habit of hunting humans. However Osama was only 3 years old and in good health. Female lions actually kill more humans in isolated events, University of Minnesota lion expert Craig Packer told the Smithsonian, but males tend to become habitual man-eaters.
Jenny E. Ross/Corbis
Near the town Rokusen-sawa on the Japanese island of Hokkaidō, a large Ussuri brown bear (Ursus arctos lasiotus) awoke early from hibernation in December of 1915, according to Xene, a Hokkaidō information site. Deforestation and increased human hunting of prey animals may have reduced the bear's ability to store fat for winter, reducing the animal to attacking humans and their homes. At first, the hungry bear only stole some corn. However, the bear later entered the home of the Ota family, where it killed a baby and a woman. Over the next few days, the bear killed seven more people and ransacked homes for food. The bear's killing and thieving ended after being fatally shot.