Bill Gates made a really catchy chart showing which animal is the worst judged by how many humans they kill a year. Now if you’ve been to any natural history museum lately you’re going to want to jump up, raise your hand and announce that you know the trick answer and it’s humans. And then when you see the chart you’re going to wonder how hippos manage to kill 500 people a year.
Gates’ point, however, is that it’s really mosquitoes, which he says kill 725,000 people a year versus just 475,000 humans killed by humans. It’s a fun chart that gets people to think about malaria and realize that sharks and wolves aren’t so bad. But the numbers are pretty off, making some already downtrodden animals (like wolves and sharks) look worse than they are. And it makes humans, which are really the worst, look better.
If you just take the way mosquitoes kill–as a disease vector–humans kill 3.2 million through respiratory infections, 1.9 million from diarrhea and 1.6 million a year through AIDS–for a total of 6.7 million just from the top contagious diseases. Car accidents add 1.3 million and I’m not sure how to count all the other drowning, hunting and other kinds of accidents. And if you add in smoking related illnesses, which the WHO says is responsible for one in 10 adult deaths globally, you add roughly another 4 million. You might say that’s controversial, so, to make up for it, I’m not going to count diabetes.
For the human-caused human deaths, Gates might have been using the global homicide rate, which was 468,000 in 2011, according to this UN report, plus deaths from war, which average about 55,000 per year. But, all tolled, I’d say humans kill about 12 million humans a year.
We’re way worse than mosquitoes. We’re still #1!
Some minor animal quibbles:
Sharks: Gates: 10 Reality: 4.2 according to Oceana
Wolf: Gates: 10 Reality: 2.3, according to a Wikipedia list (yeah, I know, not exactly the New York Times) of wolf attacks .
To Americans this is maybe the most controversial animal on the list, what with ranchers spreading rumors of wolves marauding our western plains and the first documented wolf-caused human deaths. But the number is really low. And now wolf haters are going to be using this official-looking chart for years.
Hippo: Gates 500. Reality: nobody knows, but that’s probably way too high
Lacking an international protection group, a western phobia or even a Wikipedia page, hippo attacks are really hard to track. Huffpo believes it’s an even more implausible 3,000. The problem is that if you’re hippo territory you’re probably not in internet news gathering territory. Or even accurate government mortality territory. The IUCN says there are maybe 125,000 to 148,000 hippos in Africa, decreasing by about 1% a year. If the 3,000 were true it would mean that over the course of a decade hippos would kill 30,000 people, so 25% of hippos on average killed somebody. (Unless the whole trend is the work of a few hippo serial killers, a theory the delightful Animal Review has toyed with.) And since hippos have a lifespan of 40-50 years, statistically every single one could have killed a person.
And then there are all the animals that Gates totally let off. Cows trample 100 American farmers to death a year. Deer kill cause about 200 American fatal car crashes. We’re probably talking in the hundreds, maybe thousands, worldwide.
So if you did stand up and say “humans! humans!” you were right.
Sharks: 4.2 according to Oceana.http://oceana.org/en/our-work/protect-marine-wildlife/sharks/learn-act/shark-attack-statistics