18 August 2010

12 extremely dangerous animals

In the world we live in, we sometimes forget that we aren’t always on top of the food chain.

In the world we live in, we sometimes forget that we aren’t always on top of the food chain.

At least once a year there are reports of lions in game parks attacking tourists who just wanted to get a better picture by leaning out of the window, or even getting out of the car completely. Sometimes it is the last thing they do. Especially if one watches too much TV, it's easy to forget that these are wild and dangerous animals. They look at you, and they see their supper.

Even though you are highly unlikely to encounter all the following animals while on holiday in SA, they are out there somewhere in the world. And every year, they kill people. Sometimes even people who know a lot about animals, such as rangers. They are, after all, just doing what wild animals do – hunt for their food. You could be it.

An encounter with any of the following animals is likely to end badly for any human. Some of these animals are predators, others are huge and scary, while some of the remaining ones are viciously venomous, or carry dangerous parasites.

Here are 12 of the animals it's a good idea to give a wide berth if you have any choice in the matter. And no, no photograph is worth more than your life.

1. The mosquito

As small as these pesky bloodsuckers are, they kill approximately one million people each year. Ninety percent of their victims live in Africa. Malaria is an infection of red blood cells caused by a single-celled parasite. Malaria is almost always spread by the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito. The parasites attach themselves to the gut of the female and enter the human body through the mosquito's saliva while she feeds.

2. The stonefish

The stonefish could easily be the ugliest fish in the ocean, but what it lacks in the looks department, it makes up in the venom department. The stonefish stores its venom in its sharp spines, which protrude from its back. One simple sting can send you into shock, paralysis and cause tissue cells to die. If the victim is not treated quickly, a sting from a stonefish could easily prove to be fatal. Stonefish have a row of 13 spines. Only five known deaths have been documented.

3. Lioness

The African Lioness is the animal kingdom's version of girl power. These cunning and co-operative creatures are formidable in nature. Their agility, flexibility and stealth are what “bring home the bacon” for their pride. The lioness is one of nature’s best hunters. Lionesses kill their prey by strangulation and suffocation. The pride usually consists of 2-14 closely related lionesses.

4. The hippopotamus

This oversized animal can easily outrun and outswim any person. The hippo is one of nature’s most territorial and aggressive animals. Its jaws are so powerful, it can easily “chomp” a crocodile in half. Hippos are also known to snap kayaks in half with their jaws. Their canines grow continuously and can measure up to 50 cm in length. Ironically the hippopotamus’s only known predator is humans. Few humans survive an altercation with a wild hippo. Hippos reportedly kill on average 200 people each year.

5. The African elephant

The African elephant is the largest land mammal in the world. A typical bull can weigh up to seven thousand kilos, which can easily stomp any human to death. Its trunk is also just as deadly as its feet. Its trunk has a total of 40,000 individual muscles. The elephant in general is a very gentle creature, but will act violently if it feels endangered. Elephants are also known to have impeccable hearing. They are reputed to have an excellent memory. Elephants are responsible for the deaths of 500 people each year. One reason for the high amount would be due to poacher attacks, perhaps the elephants are beginning to fight back?

6. The Australian box jellyfish

This cube-shaped jellyfish is known to be one of the most venomous creatures on earth. This jellyfish has 15 tentacles that can grow as long as three metres in length. Each tentacle has cellular-sized, harpoon-shaped needles that can inject the most deadly venom into its victim. One sting from this creature and you are as good as dead. The toxin from this animal affects the heart, nervous system and the skin. If you are stung by a box jellyfish you will most likely go into shock and drown, or simply die of a heart attack before reaching shore. Box jellyfish can’t sting through nylon pantyhose, so many Australian life guards wear them while on duty. Box jellyfish have caused the deaths of over 5000 people worldwide since the 1950s.

7. The Brazilian wandering spider

This spider can be found in Central and South America. It is easily one of the most venomous animals on land. Its venom is known to cause the most excruciating spider bite in the world. The Brazilian wandering spider is also known as the “banana spider”, because it lurks in crated/harvested bananas.  This spider's bite causes irregular heartbeats, immediate pain and cold sweats. Medical treatment is needed immediately. One of the side effects could be an erection that lasts for up to four hours. There have been 7000 reported bites from a Brazilian wandering spider, but fewer than 1% of the victims have died.

8. The Saltwater crocodile

The Saltwater crocodile, native to Australia, is the world’s longest reptile, reaching lengths of up to four to seven metres. This crocodile will eat anything it can overpower. The hide of this crocodile is the most valuable of all the crocodile species. This crocodile lurks in coastal areas, often close to river mouths. The estimated population of saltwater crocodiles is over 150 000. Saltwater crocodiles only kill one or two people every year.

9. The puffer fish

These clumsy swimmers carry a deadly poison that will leave anyone who eats them, a very dissatisfied customer. Most puffer fish contain a poison called tetrodotoxin. This toxin is 1 200 times more deadly than cyanide. This poison is strong enough to kill 30 adult humans and there is no cure. In Japan they serve a meal called fugu. Fugu is puffer fish meat and is considered a delicacy. Licensed chefs have to prepare fugu, because one wrong slice and the customer can die. There at least 10 people who die every year from puffer fish poisoning.

10. The inland Taipan snake

It is found in Australia and is the most venomous snake on earth. Its venom is two-hundred to four-hundred times stronger than that of a rattlesnake. Its neurotoxin can kill a human in approximately 45 minutes. A neurotoxin is a substance that affects the nervous system. Fortunately there is an antivenom and no known fatalities have been documented. The inland Taipan is a very shy animal and not very aggressive, which might go a long way to explaining why its victims are few.

11. The poison-dart frog

This frog is known to be one of the world’s most colourful animals. Its colourful skin acts as a warning sign to potential predators. The venom of this animal is secreted through its skin, so touching this frog can kill you. Its venom is strong enough to kill up to ten people. These frogs are found in the South American rainforests. They are called “dart” frogs, because the indigenous peoples rub their darts against these frogs before using the darts for hunting. There are more than 100 types of poison dart frogs.

12. The polar bear

The polar bear might seem extremely cuddly, but it is everything but. This carnivore can rip its prey to pieces, as well as overpower most animals, as well as humans. Like most mammals, it is a very protective parent. If polar bears sense their cubs to be in the slightest danger, they will attack with frightening ferocity. A possible reason why they act so violently is because of the lack of fish in the ocean near the Arctic. As most people know, the polar caps are melting, thus making trips for the polar bears to get food both longer and further. So people could be potential prey. The good news is that you are highly unlikely to come across a polar bear while going about your daily normal routine. Unless of course you are an Arctic explorer.

(Kyle Boshoff, Health24, July 2010) 

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