animals that hunt people
Educated by a lifetime of killing for every meal, predators grow up and learn to select targets which play to their strengths. Calories are wasted on a failed chase. An intense fight raises the risk of injury. They prioritize targets which they can take down.
Attacking unfamiliar game is risky. People don’t look or sound like typical prey species. Our silhouette is unique. Bipedal footsteps have a distinct sound.
Predators that have crossed paths with people might associate them with loud sounds, unfamiliar smells, and large groups.
There are animals that are not interested in you as a meal, but they will mess you up anyway as a defensive reflex.
There are animals that will interpret your presence as a territorial challenge, and they will stomp you out as a matter of housekeeping.
And then there are the ones that will eat you.
For all the predators that are bigger than a person, how likely is each to be interested in you as a meal?
Being interested in you as a meal is a complicated thing to try to assign one score for a whole species. There are a lot of variables for any given encounter. A big part of the equation is size differential.
As predators grow through adolescence and adulthood, the prospect of hunting larger prey becomes more appealing. Several predators in the range of 150-300 pounds are going to be interested in a person that is alone and under 100 pounds, but would pass up two people or a person who makes their appearance large and moves like a threat.
To standardize and compare species, let’s assume fully mature, dominant, larger-than-average individuals.In most cases those are males, but females are larger for sharks and hyenas. On the human side consider a small person, 5 feet tall weighing 90 pounds (about 40 kg).
Assume the predator is hungry but not so desperate that it is about to die of starvation. For species that hunt in groups, assume a small group.
Imagine something like Jumanji - you roll the dice and whatever animal comes up, the environment shifts to its natural habitat. The animal appears one minute after you roll. For a polar bear you’re on a glacier, for a tiger you’re in a forest, for a croc you’re in a sandy river.
The wind is not in your favor. You don’t have a shelter or a stick to wave around. You’re walking through the domain of a large, dominant, hungry carnivore, passing near it. Will it pursue you?
Polar bears, tigers, Nile crocs, and saltwater crocs - apex predators have a different kind of confidence when they live in an environment where there is a big gap between them and the next most powerful predator. A lack of hesitation develops with generations of not getting smacked down by another species. Mature adults will make a meal of anything that moves.
Hippos are like that as well. They eat loads of vegetation and are opportunistic carnivores. The aggression of a large, hungry, male is a danger on the same level as apex predators.
Hippos and Nile crocs live in close proximity to each other, and large adults will eat the other species’ young, which goes against what I said about not getting smacked down by another species. They also contend with rhinos and elephants. But they are fearless towards a lone person who is one hundred times smaller than an elephant.
Crocs live in close proximity to other crocs. If you’re trying to escape one, you’re also probably needing to escape several others.
On a scale of 0, 1, 2 (no, yes, strong yes).
Animals that hunt in coordinated groups (lions, hyenas, and wild canids) are noted with x2, x3, etc. to indicate a group of 2 or 3, etc.. Other animals in the list occasionally hunt in groups, but I had to draw the line somewhere.
Lower on the list are animals which would probably only attack under unique conditions like extreme hunger or protecting young.
Wolverines are just below the cutoff, having a score of 0 for both a small and large person, but I wouldn’t take my chances against one. Other animals that I would give two zeroes, but which could hunt a small person in an extreme situation include:
African crowned eagle
Other aquatic monsters
I would like to revisit this with survey data and new commentary. If you have a minute, please copy-paste this table, fill in the scores you think each animal deserves (or just the ones you want to rate), and send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Animal weights taken from Wikipedia for larger-than-average mature adults. As an upper limit I did 0.8 times the largest on record.
A polar bear might come up against a bigger walrus (2000 kg) or whale (2000+ kg ). A croc or hippo might come up against a bull elephant (9000 kg).