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Australian animals are no more dangerous than British cows

Life, Travel — October 2016

Living in Britain, one encounters a regular series of stories about how dangerous Australian animals are. (Otherwise, the UK media treat Australia pretty much the way the Australian media treat New Zealand.) And most people accept this as gospel, to the extent that it's often given as a reason for not visiting Australia. In fact, this is complete nonsense: British cows kill as many people each year as all of Australia's "dangerous" animals put together.

In Australia, on average each year fewer than two people die from snake bites, perhaps one and a half from shark attacks, fewer than one a year from crocodiles, and fewer than one a year from jellyfish, octopuses, stonefish and so forth put together. No one has died from spider bites in the last fifty years.

Meanwhile, cows kill about five people a year in the United Kingdom. (Cows kill few people in Australia because walking routes are almost almost all in national parks rather than farmland, as there are few rights of way there.)

See Life in Australia for more on this.

Yes, the UK population is two and a half times Australia's. On the other hand, it's relatively easy to avoid swimming in rivers known to have crocodiles in them, and deliberately provoking snakes (the source of most attacks). Avoiding all fields with cows in them would seriously constrain one's walking options in Britain.


  1. And 76% of people killed by cows in the UK were farm workers. Easy to avoid that by getting another job. Australia has higher deaths of farm workers than the UK too, especially if you count deaths of people herding cattle in helicopters. An average of just over 1 walker a year being killed by a cow in the UK is a small number, much safer than cycling on a road. Taking care around cows with calves would have avoided most of those. Cattle are way less aggressive than Australian snakes, spiders, jelly fish (sting anything that they bump into) and sharks.

    Reading your source. Only 12% of snakebite deaths were people trying to attack or kill a snake. 20% of deaths were of professional snake catchers/handlers. Around half were from people accidentally treading on them (they like basking on tracks and mimicking sticks). I have been threatened by a tiger, 2 brown & 2 red bellied black snakes just by walking past them not seeing them in Epping, fortunately the one RBBS that tried to strike missed. Three of those where when I was a kid, but since they wiped out the foxes that eat the eggs and prey of snakes, numbers a booming again.

    Also nearly been bitten by red backs twice, and almost stepped on 2 funnel webs and mouse spider.


    Comment by Pertinax — October 2016
  2. Well, one is certainly more likely to be *bitten* by a spider than a cow, but still more likely to be killed by the latter. And if you've been threatened by snakes five times in fifty years, what are the chances of a tourist on a two month visit even seeing one? One can dice the numbers in all kinds of ways - crocodile deaths are mostly avoidable, and those and jellyfish are only problems in particular areas - and we should really include dogs and horses as well, if we're comparing "dangerous" and everyday animals... But trying to find meaningful relative risk ratios is dubious when the absolute numbers are so small. My comparison was an attempt to try to convey how overblown the risks appear when only events involving exotic (to Britons) fauna are reported.

    Your passing mention of cycling on roads is a hint to the elephant in the room, which is that one is (in Australia or the UK) at least a hundred times more likely to be killed by people driving motor vehicles than by any kind of non-human animal.

    Comment by danny — October 2016
  3. Fun article. I thought every dang thing in Australia that had more or less than two legs just waited for a dumb tourist to walk or swim by.....Of course our travel guides here in the States are Steve Irwin, "In a Sunburned Country", "Chopper" and "Wolf Creek"....you sure it's safe down under ? ;>

    Comment by Patrick — December 2016
  4. My closest encounter was with a couple of poisonous brown snakes while on a hike with my bushwalk mentor. The snakes were sunning themselves in the morning sun on a walking trail. I panicked, dropped my backpack and ran for dear life, much to the mirth of my older, experienced and wiser companion.

    In general, brown snakes would shy away, they are not aggressive. It is more innate fear than actual danger. Other than that, I have nothing to report on dangerous animal encounters. That goes with my younger days when I used to do a lot of diving and spearfishing.

    Comment by Douglas — July 2018

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