Australia, home to the world’s most venomous snakes and spiders – not to mention the most feared man-eating crocodiles on mother earth and a shark attack rap sheet to beach the faint-hearted – comes with a health and safety warning.
In truth, Australia’s fauna have copped an undeserved global reputation for cold, and in some instances warm, blooded ferocity. If there was a sign at airports and ports cautioning visitors about the dangers Down Under, it should more accurately declare: ‘Beware of the human beings.’
So, while the thought of stumbling across a lethal tiger snake, dugite or taipan floods most people with fear, you’ve got more to worry about driving your hired car out of the hotel than being fatally fanged.
Snake deaths are so rare in Australia that on average only two people die each year among the 550 who are hospitalised from a type of injury categorised as “unintentional” in Australian government health records. Most people who are bitten by snakes in Australia were either trying to move or kill a reptile that is far more terrified, not to mention shy, of humans than the other way around.
Unlike snakes, shark deaths always make for banner headlines in the media, so it’s no surprise that Jaws was a box office smash hit that still gives anyone who saw the movie shivers at the mere thought of the razor-sharp molars that devoured Robert Shaw hook, line and torso.
But like snakes, in Australia the chance of being killed by a shark can be measured in record breaking lottery winning-type odds to one. On average, only six people worldwide are killed by sharks per annum of which Australia accounts for about two deaths in a country where most people live close to the sea. Six human deaths in a year hardly justifies the unfair reputation sharks have earned for being cold-blooded serial killers, especially as most shark attacks are non-fatal.
The mere mention of the words, ‘redback’ or ‘funnel-web’ will be enough for any arachnophobia to break out in a cold sweat, but you’ve probably got more chance of being buried in the outback by a falling meteorite from space than being killed by a spider in Australia.
Yes, Australia is home to the most venomous spiders on the planet and it is true that thousands of people are bitten every year. However, over the past 42-years, the only recorded spider-induced death in Australia was a 22-year-old man who was bitten by a redback during a bushwalk on the east coast.
Bee stings are far more potentially fatal, but none more so than sharks or snakes with 27 deaths occurring over the past 13-years in the Lucky Country.
Australia is even a safe haven from the world’s biggest killer of humans (apart from people themselves that is) reflected in the 700,000 annual deaths from the tiny mosquito, as Australia has been malaria free for 40-years. An Australian man did die in a Melbourne hospital of encephalitis in 2016, but he had returned home from Thailand where he was bitten by the insect.
Australians still reflect on how desperately unfortunate Steve Irwin was to be killed by a stingray, but it’s sobering to consider that if you are going to die in Australia, it will far more likely ensue from a drug-related issue than being munched by any man-eating crocodile.
That’s because on average saltwater crocodiles, the ones that keep us from open swimming in the sea at Darwin and Cairns, much like sharks, snakes and spiders, only kill an average of two people a year in Australia. Compared to 1,808 (legal and illegal) drug-related deaths in 2016, the highest in 20-years, you’ve got far more to fear from the doctor’s prescription in your wallet than any prey in Crocodile Dundee’s crosshairs.
Road accidents claimed the lives of 1,225 people last year and most were killed due to speeding, the influence of drugs or alcohol or reckless driving. Similarly, of the 118 people killed in the workplace last year, an overwhelming number lost their lives senselessly as a result of human negligence or plain stupidity, according to Safe Work Australia.
So next time you are sleeping among the snakes, spiders and scorpions – savouring the sparkling southern cross of a cloudless outback where there aren’t many, or any, humans – relax and take comfort in the knowledge that you’re in a far, far safer environment than any urban jungle.
But once back in the city, just beware of the most feared killer on the planet.