Provocation, momentary ill-advised infringement on territory and the expanding encroachment of humans on wild habitats are all factors in animals fatally and tragically attacking people, even if their victim has the hand that feeds them. The mutual lack of fear and a false sense of security as otherwise wild animals and humans work and live together can also lead to unanticipated, fatal animal attacks. Mike Conover, who studies animal-human conflict at the Berryman Institute in Utah, told CNN that animals without fear of human beings are “a deadly combination.” Similarly, those humans who become comfortably familiar with wild animals might let their guard down just a bit too much.
Animal caregivers in reserves and zoos and wildlife experts who study predatory animals are especially at risk. Many of these people dedicate their lives to studying specific species because of their great affinity with them. They want not only to protect the health and well-being of a species, but also the habitats these species have called home for decades before humans interfered with the environment. It is a tragic irony when these people are killed by the animals they loved to observe and interact with. However, such cases demonstrate the stark fact that even with the best of intentions, wild animals remain wild and are inherently unequipped to develop domesticated relationships with humans. The more we study wild animals, the more we understand how they behave in their natural settings – but these animals are still extremely unpredictable. It is impossible to know for certain if and when they will feel the need to attack and kill.
6. Patricia Wyman – Wolf
Patricia Wyman was an animal caretaker who was hired to look after the wolves at the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve in Ontario, Canada. Wyman loved all animals, including wolves, and participated in education programs and tours at the park before she was officially hired. Although she expressed concerns to her husband about the alpha male, the wolves at the park generally kept their distance from humans.
In April of 2006, Wyman entered the wolf enclosure alone without telling any of her supervisors. Her body was found in late afternoon, but nobody, including investigators, knows exactly what took place or why she was attacked. She was found with her clothing ripped and multiple bite wounds. Some flesh was also missing. After police recovered the body, the wolves were ordered by the coroner to be put down. Wyman was only 24-years old at the time of her death.
5. George Went Hensley – Snake
George Went Hensely was a Pentecostal preacher based primarily in Tennessee. He practised snake handling for the majority of his life and taught the skill to many of his devoted followers.
In 1995 he suffered a bite on the wrist from a venomous snake whilst preaching on the topic of faith in Florida. This was only after he had taken the snake out of its cage, wrapped it around his neck, and walked through the audience with it. After the bite, Hensley was in a great deal of pain as his arm began to discolour and hematemesis started to set in. Because of his extreme religious beliefs, Hensley refused medical treatment and took the full brunt of the severe pain. Hensley died from the bite early the next day – his death was ruled as a suicide.
4. Vitaly Nikolayenko – Brown Bear
Vitaly Nikolayenko was a Russian bear expert who spent 25 years living and working alongside wild brown bears in the Kamchatka Peninsula. Nikolayenko also cared for and respected bears; he often fought against illegal hunting and poaching when he was not trekking 620 miles year or journaling his experiences in hundreds of notebooks.
His mauled body was found not far from his cabin near the Tikhaya River in 2004. Next to his body was the large paw print of a brown bear and an empty can of mace. Even though Nikolayenko tried to defend himself as evidenced by the large amount of orange residue around his body from the pepper spray, he could not fight off the bear. Half of his body was missing and consumed. His camera was found near his body but the film has yet to be developed. It is likely that the images will never be publicly released.
3. Keltie Byrne – Killer Whale
Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, Canada, was struck by tragedy in February of 1991 when Keltie Byrne was killed by Tilikum, the killer whale she lovingly trained. In front of visitors, Byrne slipped and fell into the tank where Tilikum took her in its jaws and dragged her under water.
According to Sealand, the tragedy was an accident, not a malicious attack. Trainers were not allowed to swim with the whales and as such the animals were not used to people in such close proximity to them, especially in the water. Byrne was pulled around the pool by Tilikum while the other two whales worked to block her escape. Other trainers did everything they could to stop the attack, but there was no way to reach Byrne as she was pulled by the killer whale. The official cause of Byrne’s death was drowning. Later, it was was revealed that the two female whales in the tank were pregnant at the time, leading them to act in a particularly defensive and aggressive manner.
The same whale was then moved to SeaWorld Orlando, Florida where it was responsible for the death of forty year old trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 – again, while spectators helplessly looked on.
2. Timothy Treadwell – Grizzly Bear
The shocking documentary ‘Grizzly Man’ portrays one of the most emblematic and tragic cases of humans placing too much trust in wild and dangerous animals. Timothy Treadwell loved bears. He dedicated his life to living and working alongside grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness. Treadwell believed that bears are misunderstood, gentle in nature and would never harm a human unless provoked. He filmed hundreds of hours of footage of his interactions with grizzly bears, often coming so close to them that he could touch or pet them. But one night in 2003, Treadwell had tempted fate too far.
He usually made his Alaskan excursions during the summer months but that fateful year he decided to stay later into the season – when the bears began preparing for hibernation and other bears would frequently enter the territory. Camping near a busy salmon stream, Treadwell was attacked and killed by an unknown grizzly bear. His girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, who was with him, also died. His disfigured remains were found by a pilot. Before his death, Treadwell toured America and gave public talks in schools, urging people to preserve the habit of the bears he loved.
1. Steve Irwin – Giant Stingray
Steve Irwin, AKA The Crocodile Hunter, was a wildlife expert famous for his work with wild animals around the world. Irwin was fearless as he approached dangerous wild large and small animals and interacted with them on his television documentary series, The Crocodile Hunter Diaries. Irwin was well known as an animal conservationist who would never purposely harm the animals he worked with.
In September of 2006, Irwin was tragically killed by a giant stingray while working along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. He had been filming at the time and, since the crew could not find any Tiger Sharks, Irwin decided to turn focus on the stingrays. Although stingrays aren’t known to be aggressive, the stingray in question began to use its long tail in rapid stabbing motions. Irwin was stabbed through the chest with the foot-long barb and bled profusely. The last thing he said to his camera man, Justin Lyons, was “I’m dying.” Irwin died shortly after the attack. His daughter, Bindi Irwin, is a fellow animal lover and conservationist who has continued her father’s work since his death.