In most cases of animals attacking humans, the human made a stupid choice. Take the idiot who, last week, decided to grab a bull shark's tail at Wrightsville Beach, N.C. He thought the 4-foot bull shark wasn't dangerous. That error of judgment led to a very bloody human arm.
As marine biologist Andy Rogan (my brother) asked me, "What is the thought process from someone who goes to grab a shark?"
From Rogan's perspective, there's a problem with how we approach wild animals: "It seems that many in modern society are disconnected from nature. In turn, we have a lack of respect for animals and the damage they can inflict. Even a small shark, such as this 4-5 foot bull shark, has rows and rows of razor sharp teeth which can inflict serious damage."
Still, the Wrightsville Wrangler is far from alone in this tradition of stupidity. A few examples include...
The burglar who, in 2015, attempted to escape from police in Florida by swimming across a hotel lake. Surprise: Alligators like lakes in Florida.
In 2016, the lady who took a midnight swim in waters infested with saltwater crocodiles. Swimming with salties (as the Australians refer to them) is like swimming in plutonium. It is not clever.
There was the Ivory Coast crocodile handler who liked walking around smacking large Nile crocodiles with a wooden stick. Surprise: If you fall over next to a Nile crocodile, said crocodile will eat you (here's the BBC report, which is slightly more pleasant than the video).
There are the American preachers who mess around with vipers and unsurprisingly find their blood turning into glue.
And of course, we mustn't forget the subgroup of freaks who seem to think it's a good idea to climb into lion, polar bear, or panda bear enclosures.
The point here is that animals demand respect. If you go into their domain, be wary. Predatory animals are a function of evolutionary natural selection. The wild is an environment normally defined by limited resources (food) and high competition (many different animals searching for resources). In turn, the most dangerous animals are at the top of this food chain because they have mastered the art of resource maximization (a.k.a. the art of hunting).
That begs the question of what to do about dangerous animals, and there seem to be two schools of thought.
One, the Chinese school, believes that we must purge dangerous animals out of existence or simply use them for our own benefit — China's genocidal shark-finning fetish, for example.
The other school takes a more nuanced approach. After all, if respected, dangerous animals can serve human interests by their very existence. As my brother put it, "Sharks are not mindless killers, and if they are respected, they can be enjoyed by divers and snorkelers, supporting a billion-dollar tourist-driven industry and providing ecosystem services worth far more." The same is true of tigers, lions, and crocodiles. Indeed, safaris in Africa provide critical to support to otherwise impoverished local communities.
So, the next time you see a shark, tiger, or snake, just leave it alone. The world is big enough for all of us.