BOOKS: Deadly Kingdom: The book of dangerous animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2010:

Deadly Kingdom: The book of dangerous animals
by Gordon Grice
Random House (1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019), 2010. 352
pages, hardcover. $27.00.

Almost all animals can be dangerous, shows Gordon Grice in
Deadly Kingdom.
Dogs, among the most familiar species to humans, inflict an
estimated 4.7 million reported bites per year in the U.S., causing
at least 800,000 people, mostly children, to require medical help.
Currently more than 30 Americans per year die from dog bites. Dozens
more are horribly disfigured. Abroad, dog bites are still the most
common vector for transmitting rabies to humans.


The average person, however, may never experience a dog
bite. Grice explores dog behavior to explain why they bite,
offering the conventional explanations. But not all dog attacks are
truly accidents. Some dogs have been bred and trained to fight, and
to attack humans as well as animals. This is nothing new. Columbus
used dogs to exterminate the Taino people of Hispaniola.
Tigers, among the most feared occasional predators of
humans, rarely harm people if other prey are abundant. Grice
describes some gruesome exceptions. The Champawat tigress, listed in
the Guinness Book of Records, reputedly ate 436 humans in Nepal and
India. Tiger conservationist Jim Corbett shot her in 1911, hours
after she killed a 16-year-old girl. Corbett, who detested sport
hunting, found that tiger’s upper and lower right canine teeth had
been shattered by an earlier gunshot, and believed that inability to
hunt her normal prey caused her to turn to hunting humans.
Corbett began shooting “maneaters,” including leopards and
panthers as well as tigers, in 1907, five years after a government
study reported that tigers had killed at least 1,046 people in 1902.
Many were killed after venturing into tiger habitat to hunt for meat
or honey. But humans had done this for centuries without
experiencing such frequent attacks. Corbett became convinced that
big cats–like the Champawat tigress and the almost equally notorious
Leopard of Rudraprayag–became dangerous to humans primarily after
being wounded by trophy hunters. Corbett hoped that killing
confirmed “maneaters” would eliminate the pretext of trophy hunters
that they were acting to protect the public when they hunted big cats
who had not harmed anyone.
Proportional to their numbers, captive tigers appear to be
far more dangerous than the remnant population left in the wild. The
October 2003 near-fatal mauling of trainer Roy Horn at the Mirage
Hotel in Las Vegas was scarcely an isolated incident–but there are
fewer witnesses to most such maulings, e.g. the unwitnessed January
2010 death of private tiger keepr Norman Buwald, 66, of Southwold,
Ontario.
Scorpions are also much feared, but attack only when
perceiving themselves to be threatened. At that, most of the 1,500
scorpion species are harmless. Deadly scorpions occur mostly in
Central and South America, chiefly striking children who are unaware
of their potential danger. Grice says a scorpion sting can kill in
less than an hour through causing respiratory or heart failure.
Spiders too are mostly harmless, but among the lethal species such
as the black widow, watch out. Survivors say that black widow bites
produce the worst or nearly the worst pain they have ever had. But
survival rates have improved with the introduction of improved
antivenins.
Some of the 3,500 species of cockroach have survived nearby
nuclear explosions. Impervious to human efforts to eradicate them,
cockroaches can spread disease–but, ubiquitous as they are,
cockroaches are rarely been implicated in anything fatal to humans.
African and Africanized hybrid “killer” bees, however, can do
phenomenal damage to any human or animal who disturbs them. Yet
mosquitoes, relatively little feared, kill more humans per year by
transmitting diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and Japanese
encephalitis than all other insects and vertebrate species combined.
Deadly Kingdom is both fascinating and scary. Discussions
of species including leeches and rats turned my stomach, but Grice
presents information that may interest anyone who works among
animals. –Debra J. White

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