[Contributing writer Melissa Grant is a North Bend resident, pet trainer for Miss Lola’s Academy for Wayward Dogs and a wildlife enthusiast]
I’m about to give you information you never knew you needed. This information was hard to find, took substantial screen squinting, rigorous reading of gruesome details and required me to deal with statistics. I hate statistics! So, you’re welcome!
I’m kidding. It was my own curiosity that drove me to research and write this article. There seems to be a perception that our local wildlife is causing much human harm. If an alert goes out that a coyote, bear, or cougar was seen, the familiar refrain is, “Watch your kids and pets!” It is repeated so often, new residents to the area become fearful and even long-time residents think these animals are frequently killing and eating people.
Ask anyone what they think the number one killer animals of people in the state is, and you usually get a familiar answer: “Well, bears/cougars/wolves, of course!”
But is this the truth?
There are places on earth where people are in real danger of dying by some sort of non-human related cause. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the top worldwide animal killer is the mosquito. “The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 435,000 in 2017” with 93% of those deaths in Africa. Southeast Asia is home to the Indian Cobra and responsible for an estimated 50,000 deaths in India alone. The sweetly named Kissing bug kills an estimated 20,000 people each year in Mexico, Central and South America by infecting them with Chagas disease.
According to the CDC, Washington State isn’t the state in which you are MOST likely to be killed by an animal, that honor goes to Montana. But it isn’t the LEAST likely either, that prize goes to Massachusetts. We fall somewhere in the middle. Surely with all our wild spaces and animals our deadliest animal has got to be a bear or wolf, right?
Let’s start with our furry wild land mammals: These critters are the most talked about, after all, and should be near the top of the list.
- Wolves: A recent hot topic in the area. Folks warn there was a reason our ancestors completely extirpated this vile creature. The Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2018 Annual Report showed 126 adults at the end of the year, fewer now with the removal of one pack. The 100-year count for fatal wolf attacks? Zero.
- Coyotes: The coyote has historically resisted all efforts to exterminate its kind and flourishes in Washington with approximately 50,000 adults. Despite that high number, there have been no fatal coyote attacks in Washington and only one confirmed in the United States ever.
- Bears: Arguably the most locally discussed animal. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) estimates their population to be about 25,000 statewide. In the past 100 years there has been one fatal black bear attack in Washington.
- Cougars: One of the most feared wild animals in the entire state. Local tales sometimes tell of school children being picked off at the bus stop. The latest WDFW census numbers estimate there are 2300 independent cougars ( 18+ months old. Adults are 24+ months) in the state. The last 100 years have seen two fatal attacks in Washington.
Well, that eliminates the big four worries. So, what are the animals most likely to cause your death in Washington State? I can’t give you a numbered list without going blind staring at the CDC wonder website, but I can tell you the most likely suspects.
- Dogs: I started to count all of the fatal attacks over the last 100 years, but just didn’t want to read anymore. We have about 1,849,218 dogs in Washington State. There were 36 fatal dog attacks nationally in 2018
- Hooved animals such as deer, elk, horses and cows: This number is likely higher nationally in places with more ranching, but our deer/elk caused traffic fatality average is about 1.5 a year. Nationally the number is about 122.
- Bees and other stinging insects: Considered to be the country’s most lethal animal, bees and wasps account for 100 deaths annually nationwide and according to the CDC, the leading cause of animal caused death in Washington State.
There is one animal left, one that causes more deaths in Washington than any other. As of April 1, 2019 we have an estimated 7,546,400 people in the state. Our homicide mortality was 266 people. With an estimated half a million people dying every year in the world from homicide, we had better take care we don’t catch up to mosquitoes and become the deadliest animal on the planet.
So, the next time someone regales you with how you should fear bears, cougars, and wolves, be careful: you may be talking to a dangerous animal.