Shark Week: what is the most dangerous animal in the world?

Aug 8, 2014

Think sharks are scary? Tapeworms and snails kill thousands more people across the world each year

Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Shark Week returns on Sunday with its week-long series of television programmes devoted to sharks. Experts will go on a "life or death" mission to find a giant shark off the New Zealand coast in 'Lair of the Mega Shark' and shark attack survivors will tell their stories in 'I Escaped Jaws 2'. But for all the fascination and fear that sharks inspire, they are far from the deadliest animal on the planet.

"Sharks are wimps," claims Bill Gates, who put together a list of the world's most dangerous animals earlier this year using figures from a range of journals and the World Health Organisation. He acknowledges that the statistics have wide error margins and will differ depending on what parameters you apply, but nevertheless sharks still come pretty low down on the list. In fact they don't even make it into the top ten.

Gates says the average number of humans killed by sharks each year is ten. According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF), between 1580 and 2013 there were 2,667 confirmed unprovoked shark attacks around the world, of which 495 were fatal. The highest number of deaths per year in the last decade was in 2011, when 13 people were killed by sharks. National Geographic says that for every human killed by a shark, humans kill approximately two million sharks. It adds that in 1996, 43,000 Americans were injured by toilets and 2,600 were injured by room fresheners, while only 13 were injured by sharks. 

Here is Gates's list of the world's most dangerous animals:

10. Lion and elephant (100 deaths each a year)

9. Hippopotamus (500 deaths a year)

8. Crocodile (1,000 deaths a year)

7. Tapeworm (2,000 deaths a year)

6. Ascaris roundworm (2,500 deaths a year)

5. Freshwater snail, assassin bug and tsetse fly (10,000 deaths each a year)

4. Dog (25,000 deaths a year)

3. Snake (50,000 deaths a year)

2. Human (475,000 deaths a year)

1. Mosquito (725,000 deaths a year)

Mosquitoes carry deadly diseases, from dengue fever and yellow fever to encephalitis. The worst is malaria, which kills more than 600,000 people every year. "Considering their impact, you might expect mosquitoes to get more attention than they do," says Gates. "Sharks kill fewer than a dozen people every year and in the US they get a week dedicated to them on TV every year. Mosquitoes kill 50,000 times as many people, but if there's a TV channel that features Mosquito Week, I haven't heard about it." 

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