Lions are responsible for hundreds of deaths each year in Africa, but these sharp-toothed cats are surprisingly not among the top three most dangerous wild animals in South Africa. That’s according to Mande Toubkin, Netcare’s general manager of emergency, trauma, transplant and CSI.
A recent review of Netcare’s Medibank data for the years 2015 to 2018 revealed details from 45 emergency departments at Netcare hospitals following attacks and bites by wild animals. The number one animal responsible for fatalities over those four years was the elephant, with snakes coming a close second. When thinking of killers in the wild, Africa’s largest antelope, the eland, isn’t one that instinctively comes to mind, yet the data reported it as the third most dangerous to humans.
“We all know to avoid snakes and that elephants can be dangerous when agitated or encountered in the wild. However, the eland came as rather a surprise,” said Toubkin.
Eland can be seen at Kruger National Park and a number of game reserves in South Africa, but their preferred habitat varies from semi-desert, grasslands to light savanna north of the Orange river, to light woodland in KwaZulu-Natal, explains Siyabonga Africa. They have heavy horns and weigh as much as 940kg.
During the period under review, a total of 10 patients were assisted at Netcare emergency departments because of elephant attacks, some of which resulted in deaths. These cases mostly involved the elephants trampling their victims. The World Wildlife Fund reports that due to poaching and the human population encroaching on elephants' territory, there is increasing contact between people and elephants, leading to conflict.
An estimated 32 000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa are killed each year by snakebites, and a further 100 000 are left disabled, often by severe injuries that require limb amputations. According to a previous Health24 article, staying calm and getting to a medical facility as quickly as possible will give you the best chance of surviving a venomous snakebite.
Attacks by crocodiles and hyenas also take place, and last year a man was fatally kicked in the stomach by a giraffe. There were other recorded incidents of giraffe attacks in the same year, including that of a woman waiting for her husband to return from a trail run on the Blyde Wildlife Estate near Hoedspruit. It is presumed that the giraffe attacked the woman because she saw her as a threat to her newborn calf.
Wild animals are never 'safe'
The Medibank data do not include trauma and emergency statistics for state sector or other private emergency and trauma services, and therefore cannot be regarded a comprehensive national picture of deaths caused by wild animals.
“The study does, however, highlight the need for us all to be aware that all kinds of wild animals, large and small, can potentially behave unpredictably and aggressively in certain situations and may pose a threat to the unwary. It is therefore advisable to keep your distance and show due respect to wild animals and to avoid handling them, as far as possible.”
Toubkin also advises to stay away from wild animals that are with their young, and to bear in mind that captive wild animals should never be considered to be tame and "safe" to handle, since they are also involved in a large number of incidents.