Surviving wildlife encounters in Africa

Average human fatalities per species and comparison of threat level among species.

If you ever wondered about the odds of being killed while watching wildlife in Africa and want to know which animal is the most dangerous, the following infographic will provide the details.

How to read it

For each species, the graphic shows the average number of people killed per year. Using our derived threat level it also shows how dangerous an animal is in comparison to its competitors in the wild.

Note that the threat level for leopards is larger than for crocodiles even though each year more people are killed by crocodiles than by leopards. Reason is that the latter is living in a smaller area smaller than crocodiles. Therefore, even if Leopards only kill 15 people, walking freely in their habitat is more dangerous than walking in the habitat of crocodiles.

How to avoid animal attacks

Most deaths by wild animals occur because of people not knowing what too look out for, accidents or simply bad luck. Therefore, following the guide lines listed below will significantly reduce your risk on a safari.

In general a few simple rules apply to all animal encounters:

  • Give them their space and don't approach them too closely.
  • Keep an extra distance if there are offspring around.
  • Take a rifle with you if you are on foot and know how to use it.
  • If relieving in the bush. Don't walk away from your car. Yes, do it right next to it. Better jump into the car with your pants down than getting eaten.

In the following some more species specific advice:

Mosquitos

As mentioned in our travel guide, the best way to prevent getting killed by a diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, is to not getting bitten.

Mosquitoes are most active during dusk and dawn. During that time, wear long sleeved clothes, apply insect repellant. In addition, use a mosquito net while sleeping.

Snakes

In general, snake do not have any desire to hunt you down and eat you for breakfast. Almost all snake bites are due to stepping on or provoking a snake. Thus not getting killed by a snake is as simple as seeing it in advance and to give it time to get out of the way.

  • Walk where you can see snakes early enough. This means: Stay on trails and avoid areas with tall grass and brush.
  • Snakes feel the vibration from your walking and usually get out of the way.
  • With 90% of snake bites going to the ankle area. Heavy boots and gaiters or long sturdy pants offer a certain protection.

Hippos

Don't be fooled by the massive and clumsy appearance of Hippos. On land they easily outrun you and should you travel in a canoe, they easily capsize your vessel and crush you with their long teethes.

For them it is all about space and if they feel confined, especially in shallow waters where they can't submerge, they attack.

  • Traveling in a canoe
    • Keep your distance. Yawning is a clear sign you are too close.
    • Make your presence known by continuously clapping the water or the side of your canoe with the oar.
  • Traveling on foot:
    • Always allow for a clear path between the Hippo and the nearby water. Especially stay away of dung trails which are frequently used by Hippos.
    • If a Hippo charges your last chance is to take cover behind a tree or termite mound. It is as simple as that, just let us hope there is something around if you need it ....

Elephants, Rhinos and Buffalos

Elephant in Etosha National Park  passing right in front of our 4WDAll three of these large animals are capable to seriously injure you, even if you sit in your car. To avoid an attack, always give them enough space to pass between cars.

While Elephants often start a mock charge to show you are getting too close, Buffalos and Rhinos will pull their charge through. The big difference between these two is, that Rhinos usually don't turn and start a second attack. Buffalos on the contrary will chase you even over longer distances and other members of the herd might join them.

Leopard

Trying to find a balance between cattle and preserving original wildlife. Düsternbrook is a great spot to get near these cats.Leopards often hide in trees. So look up if walking in the bush. Should you encounter an individual interested in your skin and charging, just hope that making some noise and waving your arms convinces it that you are not edible.

Lions

Lions are hard to find. This time we got lucky.Supposedly surviving a lion attack is pretty simple: Stand your ground, stare it in its eyes and try to slowly retreat walking backwards. To be honest, I don't want to test this advice and rather stay in the car. Should you still walk through lion country:

  • Avoid walking through areas of high grass where lions can approach you unseen.
  • Avoid Late-Night Travel and do not disturb them when feeding

Crocodiles

If you keep a safe distance on land, you have good chances to outrun an attacking Crocodile. The real threat is near the water. Crocs are perfectly camouflaged and sneak up on you unnoticed.

Stay away from any water potentially inhabited by crocodiles. Should you travel on the water in a canoe, avoid to surprise the animals and clap the water with your oar.

Details on the data analysis

For those who are interested in number crunching: We calculated the threat level by dividing the number off kills per year by the area the species lives in. We then applied a logarithmic scale and defined the largest number to be a threat level of 6.