I’m about to give you some 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 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 that new residents 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 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 405,000 in 2018,” with 93% of those deaths in Africa. Southeast Asia is home to the Indian Cobra and responsible for an estimated 1.2 million deaths in India in the last 20 years. 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 wholly extirpated this vile creature. The Gray Wolf Conservation and Management 2019 Annual Report showed 108 wolves in 21 packs, of which 10 were successful breeding pairs in 2019. The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation had 37 wolves reported. 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 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 didn’t want to read anymore. We have about 1,849,218 dogs in Washington State. There were 36 deadly 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. 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, 2020, we have an estimated 7,656,200 people in the state. Our homicide mortality was 275 people. With an estimated 400,000 people dying every year 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, take care: you may be talking to a dangerous animal.