Are we humans really at the top of the food chain or are there animals out there that want to eat us?
There are places we can go on this planet where we are not the dominant species or top predator, places where only brave men dare to venture and places where humans actually, and actively, get preyed upon. To be eaten alive, I think, would be the worst way to die, yet it happens to people every year, eaten alive by a few select animals. Let me introduce you to the maneaters.
All sharks are predatory animals, but there are only three species worthy of special mention due to their attack record against humans: the tiger shark, the great white shark, and the bull shark. You could argue that the oceanic white-tip shark is a maneater, but due to its lack of contact with humans as it lives in the middle of the oceans, humans aren't on its menu. If you are adrift in the open ocean, though, you are most certainly on their menu!
The tiger shark is often referred to as the garbage truck of the oceans as it will literally eat anything! It has been found with licence plates, boots, cans and all manner of bizarre objects in its stomach.
Due to its impressive size, growing to over 4m in some cases, and as it frequents warm tropical waters, the tiger shark comes into contact with humans quite frequently and it has been known to attack, kill and eat humans.
Although it doesn't deliberately prey on humans, it is opportunistic, and if a person receives a bite, the serrated teeth saw through the flesh easily, resulting in death from injuries or from excessive bleeding. Thankfully, though, attacks are extremely rare.
The great white shark also has a bad reputation as a maneater although, as with the tiger shark, attacks are very rare, and often the victim is mistaken as a seal, its usual prey. Again, as with the tiger shark, when a bite on a human is delivered, the hundreds of teeth easily tear through the flesh and the victim dies of shock, injuries or bleeding.
Humans are rarely completely eaten after a bite, as I guess their flesh is not quite to the taste of these sharks. They certainly don't deserve their man-eating reputation, but you still wouldn't get me to be free swimming with them, although cage diving with them was exhilarating.
The bull shark is the biggest killer in the shark world. Killing far more people than the tiger or the great white, the bull shark is a stocky, powerful hunter. Its key to being a successful hunter, and also a maneater, is that it is the only shark that can tolerate both salt and fresh water.
This means that it comes into contact with humans frequently in rivers, at river mouths or in the shallow seas, and these are the places where attacks take place. Like all other sharks, attacks by them are extremely rare, but they are often deadly when they happen.
Remember, millions more sharks die for every person who dies from a shark attack, so they should be the ones complaining.
Humans certainly aren't on their regular menu, and you are more at risk from dying from bee stings, coconuts falling on your head, and certainly on the roadways, so please don't worry to much about shark attacks.
If there is one family of animals that will actively prey on you under the right circumstances, it is the order Crocodylia _ which comprises crocodiles, alligators, caimans and gharial.
Realistically, a crocodilian has to be over 3m long for it to prey on adult humans, so that includes the estuarine crocodile, the American alligator (although this is very placid compared to crocodiles), the American crocodile, the Nile crocodile and the South American Black Caiman.
The Nile and estuarine (saltwater) crocodiles are responsible for more human deaths by predation than all of the other maneaters put together. They are closely related, but are prevented from inbreeding because of geographic separation, with the Nile crocodile living exclusively on the African continent and the saltwater crocodile living in Southeast Asia and Australia.
Their hunting techniques are also identical. If you are an unsuspecting human wanting a drink from the river or who wants to cool down, the moment you get to the water's edge, like any other large mammal, you are on the menu. Adult crocodiles can grow to over 6m and weigh over a tonne, so you really wouldn't have a chance.
All big cats are dangerous and many have killed and eaten people. This includes jaguars in South America, cougars in North America and leopards in Africa, although leopards are known for terrorising Asia, especially India.
But of all the big cats, the two biggest pose the real threat to man; the lion and the tiger. Neither species usually eats humans. It was once thought that old, sick or weak cats became maneaters as humans are easy prey, but research has shown that that is not necessarily the case.
I have been around lions on many occasions, and their tendency is to fear humans, but in some places in Africa, most notably the border between Mozambique and South Africa, lions actively hunt illegal immigrants trying to get into South Africa through the Kruger National Park.
The illegal immigrants travel at night without torches to maximise their success at the border crossings, but lions, being nocturnal, simply see these humans like they would any other similar-sized mammal. This leads to many people being eaten every year. After seeing lions on a fresh kill, the thought is terrifying.
Tigers are responsible for more human deaths than any other cat species. The Amur (Siberian) tiger (the largest cat in the world) has been know to kill people, but the Bengal tigers from the Sundarbans mangrove region in Bangladesh and India are the real killers.
These tigers actively kill and eat human gatherers in the forest. There are reports of tigers taking people from boats, ladders, trees and anywhere they may be. Many forest harvesters wear masks of human faces on the back of their head to deter tigers, but many unfortunate victims, reputedly well over 100 per year, fall victim to these man-eating tigers. If you are in the Sundarbans, you are a regular part of the tigers diet.
There are other species that have eaten humans, although many kills are opportunistic. Wolves, hyenas, bears, and even large snakes, such as the giant reticulated python from Thailand, have all killed and eaten humans, but cases are thankfully rare.
Technically speaking, a maneater must eat humans as part of their regular diet, and certainly the animals mentioned above do fall under this category, especially crocodilians, but the risk of being eaten is phenomenally low.
The potential maneaters are at far more risk from us than we are from them, and they all need conserving because no matter how intimidating, powerful and frightening they are, they are wonderful, impressive animals that deserve our respect and admiration and are vital to the food chains in their ecosystems.
Dave Canavan has an MSc in Behavioural Ecology and is the Head of Secondary at Garden International School. Dave is fascinated by science and loves animals, especially the dangerous kind! You may contact Dave at davidc