Horses and cows kill more Australians than sharks, crocodiles, snake and spiders combined.
Between 2008 and 2017, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, horses and cows killed 77 people – sharks 26, snakes 23, crocodiles 17 and spiders none at all.
While Australia has a reputation as being home to some of the world’s most dangerous creatures, the figures reveal the beasts most likely to kill us are domestic.
Of the 25 deadliest snakes in the world, Australia is home to 21 of them. However, while the World Health Organisation says that about 100,000 people die of snakebite every year around the world, only two of them occurred in Australia last year.
Shhh, we’re not as deadly as legend has it
Visitors are more likely to perish from a killer krait on their stopover in Asia, where two million people are envenomed or poisoned each year.
And those spiders that live under the toilet seats and will suck out your bodily fluids as you find yourself unable to speak? Nobody died from a spider bite in Australia last year or the year before that. In fact, there hasn’t been a confirmed death from spider bite since 1979 and the advent of anti-venom.
This might take the glamour out travelling to Australia, if boasting about risky encounters is the traveller’s thing.
Thousands get bit and stung
According to national hospital admissions and coronial data, from 2001 to 2013 there were more than 42,000 hospitalisations from venomous stings or bites – an average of 3500 people are admitted to hospital every year for venom-related injuries.
According to Ronelle Welton, Research Fellow, Department of Pharmacology, University of Melbourne – and author of a get-real study published last year in the Internal Medicine Journal – about one in 10,000 Australians have bragging rights to being hospitalised each year from a poisonous bite or sting.
In a piece she wrote for The Conversation, Dr Welton said that allergies or anaphylaxis from insect stings such as bees or wasps were responsible for about one-third of these admissions, spider bites accounted for 30 per cent, and snake bites 15 per cent.
Saddled with animal violence
For years now we’ve known the domestic horse is our biggest killer. What’s less mentioned is the cow.
A combination of horses and cows killed 77 Australians between 2008 and 2017, according to ABS figures. They tend to be lumped together in the statistics, but the national coroners’ database has found the killing is split two-thirds by horses, one-third by cow.
Between 2000 and 2006, coroners found 40 horses killed people (mostly by people falling off), against 20 cows and bulls. Most often people die from hitting a cow in their car or swerving to avoid them – but sometimes the cow attack is personal.
In January, a man in his late 50s died after being stood on by a cow, causing critical head and chest injuries.
We’re not alone. In 2015, the cow was declared the most dangerous large animal in Britain, where there are stories of people being trampled, gored and crushed against fences. This could well be why your friends want to come to Australia in the first place.
They just didn’t kill that many people
According to the ABS, six people died from bee, hornet and wasp stings last year – three times as many as those killed by snakes.
What about crocodiles? They killed two people last year – and a consistent 17 over a nine-year period, from 2008 to 2017, according to the ABS.
Is the legend of the deadly Australian critter a consequence of us being a nation of highly conflicted braggers and whingers? Going to hospital is no small thing.
The word gets around. And somehow the legend builds up that the true battler is falling down dead from a snake or a spider.