Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Most Dangerous Animal

I still have a copy of a great book I first read many years ago, called “Hunter”, by Mr. J.A Hunter, Game Warden of Kenya between 1923 and 1949.

In this he describes his unique experiences with African wildlife during which time he was required to control aggressive animals that were threatening the local populations. Later in his career Hunter accompanied wild life photographers as a sort of “armed guard”, in case an animal charged the cameraman.

In his job as Game Warden Hunter shot and killed many African animals, but in the later years of his life he became heavily in favour of animal protection and his book “Hunter” describes part of his journey from shooter to conservationist.

During his 25 years in the African bush, Hunter assembled an extensive knowledge of African animals, particularly those large enough to be dangerous to humans, and provided his opinion on which are the most dangerous. The results are a little surprising.

Hunter rated the big five African land animals – the elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo, lion and leopard in order of their danger to humans, taking into account their temperament, physical abilities and likelihood of being stopped if charging. He did not include the crocodile or hippopotamus because these are semi aquatic and although highly dangerous, were not classed as land animals. 

Here is his rating, from least to most dangerous, taking all these factors into account.

The elephant was rated as the least dangerous. Because of its superior intelligence, the animal normally tries to avoid contact with humans, but when charging presents a large and easy to hit target for a human. However on occasion, if aware of being followed by a hunter, the beast will double back in a semi circle and wait motionless and in complete silence by the trail, waiting for the human to pass. A sudden charge from this position can produce terrible results. 

The African elephant: intelligent, powerful and on occasion, highly dangerous. Image from Wikipedia commons - click to enlarge.

The rhino was next on the list. Extremely unpredictable, the rhino will charge with little or no provocation, but like the elephant is relatively easy to hit with a rifle because of its bulk. A rhinos charge is usually one way, and it will not normally turn back for a second attempt at goring his victim.

The rhinoceros - a massive and aggressive tank like creature.  Image from Wikipedia commons - click to enlarge.

Then came the buffalo – classed by many as the most dangerous of all African land animals but not by Hunter. He noted that this beast is certainly extremely dangerous to humans, and is capable of exhibiting highly aggressive and unpredictable behaviour. It will charge without warning and if successful in knocking his target down, will, unlike the rhino, return to gore and trample the victim. Hunter also noted that a buffalo has all his basic senses highly developed. “A buffalo can see, hear and scent equally well. A terrible combination”. The buffalo will on occasion, like the elephant, double back and wait silently in the bush for the following hunter to pass by and then charge explosively from point blank range.

The African buffalo - huge, aggressive and unpredictable. 
Image from Wikipedia commons - click to enlarge. 

However, as with the rhino, the buffalo presents a large target that can usually be stopped with a well-aimed gunshot.

Hunter then discussed what he considered the two most dangerous animals of the big five. 

He rated the lion as the second most dangerous land animal in Africa. This big cat can charge a human at great speed, often from positions close by where his presence has been carefully concealed by camouflage, absolute stillness and silence. His teeth and large claws are devastating weapons and it presents a considerably smaller target than an elephant, rhino of buffalo.
Strangely a lion can be sometimes chased from a kill in the wild but Hunter noted that it would usually fight to the death to defend the kill of domestic livestock.

The African lion - a fast and deadly member of the big cat family. 
Image from Wikipedia commons - click to enlarge.

Only one animal, in Hunters view, is more dangerous, and this is, perhaps surprisingly, the leopard. Although much smaller than a lion, this cat is cunning and ruthless, and will attack a human without hesitation should the need arise. Its comparatively smaller size by no means reduces its danger to humans, with its large fangs and claws, coupled with a flashpoint disposition, lightning reflexes and complete lack of fear of humans providing a lethal combination. Its smaller size and rocket speed attacks make it extremely difficult to stop with a rifle, and often the leopard is upon the human before any weapon can be used.

In addition, leopard’s claws are often infected from contact with putrid meat and will more often than not produce infected wounds in a human. Leopards also have a great attraction for dogs and will readily risk contacts with humans in order to grab and carry away a domestic dog.

Public enemy numer one - the fast and cunning leopard. 
Image from Wikipedia commons - click to enlarge.

The leopard is a master at concealment and its mottled fur provides near perfect camouflage in the dappled light of a bush environment. And the fact that it is adept at climbing trees, means that unlike lions, it can attack from above, greatly increasing the problems for a following human.

Hunter concluded “ All in all I know of no beast that I would less wish to hunt in cover than the fast, savage, cunning leopard”.

For a terrible example of how much damage a single leopard can do to several humans, check out


The big five beasts referred to above were heavily hunted, in some cases almost to extinction, during the first half of the twentieth century, but are now widely protected. As Hunter remarked “Such is the strange way that man works – first he virtually destroys a species, and then does everything in his power to restore it”.

Reference: “Hunter”, by J. A. Hunter, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1952

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