Reports of large carnivore attacks on humans have increased since 1970, but the frequency and context of these attacks depend on socioeconomic and environmental factors, according to a new study of more than 5,000 reports published Jan. 31 in the open access journal PLOS Biology by Giulia Bombieri. from MUSE Science Museum in Italy, Vincenzo Penteriani from the National Museum of Natural Sciences (CSIC) in Spain, and colleagues.
The researchers gathered information on 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by 12 species of carnivores in three families (Ursidae, Felidae and Canidae) between 1970 and 2019 from published and unpublished scientific articles, web pages and news reports. They identified 5,089 reported attacks by large carnivores that resulted in injuries, of which 32% were fatal. The number of reported attacks has increased over the past 49 years, particularly in low-income countries.
Attacks in high-income countries were most common during recreational activities, such as hiking, camping or dog walking, while almost 90% of attacks in low-income countries occurred during subsistence-related activities such as farming, fishing or grazing livestock.
Wild cats and canids were responsible for more predatory attacks, but bears were more likely to attack when surprised, defending cubs, or during food-related interactions, such as scavenging human food. Most of the deadly attacks occurred in lower-income countries where tigers and lions are present.
The authors say approaches to reduce large carnivore attacks should be tailored to the socioeconomic context. In high-income countries, campaigns to educate visitors and residents in large carnivore areas about risky behaviors and how to avoid dangerous encounters can be effective. By contrast, in lower-income countries, where coexistence with large carnivores is mostly involuntary, zoning changes that separate humans and livestock from large carnivore habitats, expansion of protected areas, and restoration of habitat connectivity would be more appropriate strategies. These preventive measures can be challenging to implement as the world’s population grows.
Penteriani adds, “When human recreation and/or subsistence activities overlap with large carnivore ranges, it is crucial to understand how to live with species that may pose a threat to humans. Factors driving large carnivore attacks on humans depend on the combination of local socio-economic and environmental factors, implying that measures to reduce large carnivore attacks must take into account diverse local environmental and social contexts.”
- Bombieri G, Penteriani V, Almasieh K, Ambarlı H, Ashrafzadeh MR, Das CS, et al. (2023) A global perspective on large carnivore attacks on humans. PLoS Biol 21(1): e3001946. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3001946