A global survey of attacks by large carnivores has revealed that there are distinct patterns in low- and high-income countries

Reports of large carnivore attacks on humans have increased since 1970, but the frequency and context of these attacks depends on socio-economic and environmental factors, according to a new study of over 5,000 reports by Giulia Bombieri of MUSE Science Museum in Italy, Vincenzo Penteriani of the National Museum of Natural Science (CSIC) in Spain, and colleagues.

The researchers collected information about reported attacks on humans by 12 species of carnivores in three families (Ursidae, Felidae, and Canidae) between 1970 and 2019 from published and unpublished scientific papers, web pages, and news reports.

They identified 5,089 reported attacks by large carnivores that resulted in injury, of which 32% were fatal. The number of reported attacks increased over the 49-year period, particularly in lower-income countries.

Attacks in high-income countries were most common during recreational activities, such as hiking, camping, or dog-walking, and were less likely to be fatal, whereas nearly 90% of attacks in low-income countries occurred during livelihood-related activities like farming, fishing, or grazing livestock.

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triggering carnivore attacks

Wild felids and canids were responsible for more predatory attacks, but bears were more likely to attack when surprised, defending cubs, or in food-related interactions such as scavenging human food. Most fatal attacks occurred in lower-income countries where tigers and lions are present.

The authors say that approaches to reduce large carnivore attacks should be tailored to the socio-economic context.

In high-income countries, campaigns to educate visitors and residents in large carnivore areas about high-risk behaviours and how to avoid dangerous encounters could be effective.

In contrast, in lower-income countries, where co-existence with large carnivores is mostly involuntary, zoning changes that separate humans and livestock from large carnivore habitats, expanding protected areas, and restoring habitat connectivity, would be more appropriate strategies.

These preventative measures may be challenging to implement as the global population grows.

Penteriani said: “When human recreational and/ or livelihood activities overlap with large carnivore ranges, it is crucial to understand how to live with species that can pose threats to humans.

“Factors triggering large carnivore attacks on humans depend on the combination of local socio-economic and ecological factors, which implies that measures to reduce large carnivore attacks must consider the diverse local ecological and social contexts.”

The study is published in the journal Plos Biology.


Top image: Large felids such as lions caused more deaths in general, with 65% of felid attacks being fatal, followed by canids (49%) and ursids (9%). Most fatal attacks occurred in lower-income countries and lion attacks were mainly predatory, i.e., incidents where humans were attacked with the likely purpose of being consumed.

Middle image: Most predatory attacks occurred in low-income regions, especially India (72%) and south-eastern Africa (14%), where leopards were among the most frequently involved felids. For most encounters, the victims of leopards were mainly children.

Bottom image: Ursids were mainly involved in involuntary sudden encounters (45%), defensive reactions by females with cubs (18%) or food-related interactions (16%), such as bears defending a carcass, or being surprised while attacking livestock or feeding on anthropogenic food.

All images: © Vincenzo Penteriani (CC-BY 4.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).