Humans who have become comfortably familiar with wild animals might let their guard down just a bit too much. 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.
Here is a list of a few famous people who died of animal attacks. It is a tragic irony when these people are killed by the animals they loved to observe and interact with.
1. Steve Irwin
The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, 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.
2. Keltie Byrne
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.
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 (the same one from Paper Towns), Florida where it was responsible for the death of forty-year-old trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 – again while spectators helplessly looked on.
3. Timothy Treadwell
You must have seen how brutal a grizzly bear attack is in the movie, The Revenant. But unlike the real revenant, Hugh Glass, this man didn't survive the attack. 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, died with him . 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.
4. George Went Hensley
George Went Hensley was an American Pentecostal minister, who was known for snake handling. According to his interpretation, the New Testament commanded all Christians to handle poisonous snakes. His services often found the presence of snakes and Hensley urged his followers to handle them. He claimed that he had suffered bites hundreds of times and survived without any treatment. But the luck didn’t favour him on 24 July, 1955, when he was bitten by a viper while he was trying to place it into a jar. He refused treatment, and died soon after.
5. Diane Whipple
Diane Whipple was a famous lacrosse player from America. She represented her country in two World Cups. She was living in an apartment in San Francisco. On 26 January 2001, she was attacked by two dogs at her apartment building when she was coming from grocery stores. The dogs had been owned by her neighbours in the same apartment and had been trained for fighting, albeit illegally. It accounted for their aggressive behaviour. Diane passed away in hospital from huge blood loss the same day.
6. Vitaly Nikolayenko
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 a 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.
7. King Alexander
Alexander was the King of Greece, crowned in 1917. He was basically a puppet king with no power and found himself in a scandal when he married a commoner. In 1920, the king was bitten by a monkey while he was attempting to break a brawl between his dog and another monkey. Even though he was treated immediately, the wound became infected later. Although the doctors considered amputation, nobody wanted to take responsibility. He died a few weeks later, at the age of 27.
8. Taylor Mitchell
Taylor Mitchell was a Canadian folk singer and songwriter. She earned fame with her debut album, For Your Consideration. The death came to her when she was merely 19 years of age. She was on a visit to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park when she was attacked by a number of coyotes there. Mitchell died soon after blood loss. The attack so shocked the coyote experts since the animals were thought to be wary of humans. Mitchell’s case was the first recorded killing of an adult by coyotes.
9. Jean Batten
Known as the ‘Greta Garbo of the skies,’ Jean Gardner Batten was a famous New Zealand aviator. In 1936, she became the first person ever to make a solo flight from England to New Zealand. She made a number of international flights in 1930s. In 1982 she was bitten by a dog in the island of Majorca. She refused treatment and died following infection. However, the world came to know of the tragedy only in 1987 due to official errors.
10. Ali Khan Samsudin
Ali Khan Samsudin, 48, had entered the record books for locking himself in small spaces with hundreds of snakes or scorpions for days at a time. He was bitten by a king cobra but one of his subjects inflicted that it was just the latest of many bites, so he had not been unduly worried. However, two days later, his condition worsened suddenly and his family rushed him to the hospital.
He died before he could receive treatment. Ali Khan Samsudin found fame in the early 1990s when he lived for 12 hours a day for 40 days in a small room with 400 cobras. That earned him the title of Snake King. In 1997, he acquired another record – Scorpion King – after shutting himself in a box with 6,000 of the creatures for three weeks. He was reportedly bitten 99 times in his life. He leaves two wives, five children and a protege known as the Scorpion Queen, who he trained for her own record-breaking stunt.