The death of a toddler, whose body was found underwater Wednesday after being dragged by an alligator into a Disney lagoon, would certainly qualify as a worst-nightmare scenario for any parent. Small children are delicate and small and clumsy, and alligators can have seven dozen teeth, be terrifyingly enormous and move quickly.
But it’s important to remember that the chances of such a horrific death are extremely low, and wildlife experts emphasize that people can do a lot to minimize the risk. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, of 383 unprovoked alligator attacks on people in the state since 1948, 23 were fatal, and 126 were listed as minor. Being killed by an animal also isn’t that common — especially by predators like alligators. You’ve probably heard that mosquitoes are the world’s deadliest creature to humans. In the United States, bees and other insects kill far more people than alligators. So do cows.
Even so, children do sometimes fall prey to animals, and sometimes those animals eat them. In one of the most famous such cases, a 2-month-old named Azaria Chamberlain was snatched and killed by a dingo while on a camping trip with her parents in Australia. As Slate explained in 2012, there are two main categories of man-eating animals: large predators that view people as food and are willing to hunt them, such as lions and bears, and animals that might seize an opportunity to grab small people but are unlikely to attack an adult unless provoked, including hyenas.
Here’s a hardly-complete list of examples of “man-eaters,” including some that have preyed on children.
Alligators — Most fatal attacks by the large reptiles have killed adults, but the toddler in Orlando wasn’t the first child to be killed by an alligator. In 2001, for example, a 2-year-old girl scaled a fence separating her back yard from a lake, and officials later determined that she’d been attacked and drowned by an alligator. In 1997, a boy, 3, was snatched by an alligator, and the animal was still holding his body when a trapper located it 20 hours later.
Bears — As anyone who’s seen the movie “Grizzly Man” is aware, a grizzly bear can kill and consume adults — even a man who mistakenly thinks he’s the animals’ best friend. Black bears have also been known to do so. In 1992, a 6-year-old boy was killed and partially eaten by a grizzly in Alaska, one of two fatalities that summer that set off what officials started calling “bearanoia” and a rash of shootings of bears. In 2002, a young black bear in the Catskill mountains of New York snatched a 5-month-old girl from her stroller and dropped her moments later, but she died at a hospital not long after. In 2007, a Utah boy was dragged from his campsite and fatally mauled by a black bear.
Tigers — The tigers most infamous for eating humans are those in the Sundarbans region of India and Bangladesh, and children have been among the victims. Today, according to Outside magazine, tigers there kill about six people each year, down from as many as 100 decades before.
Lions — There is perhaps no animal more commonly labeled “man-eater” than the lion. India recently put 18 lions “on trial” for killing three people in a sanctuary, and the culprit will spend life in a zoo. Some human-attackers went on to become legends, such as the lion of Mfuwe, Zambia, which killed several people and ate at least one boy in 1991. When Craig Packer, one of the world’s most renowned lion experts, studied more than 560 lion attacks in Tanzania, he found that 18 percent of victims were under age 10. While very few were babies, Packer told Slate, “we interviewed families whose kids were ripped from their mothers’ arms or taken from their grandmothers’ hands.”
Crocodiles — A 7-year-old boy was playing with a balloon near a river in the state of Michoacan, Mexico, when a crocodile leapt up and dragged him in the water, according to his father, who witnessed the event. He was the eighth person killed by crocodiles in the area in two years, according to news reports, and his remains were never found. In 2014, a crocodile in Papua New Guinea grabbed an 11-year-old boy while he was fishing, and police later said they found his limbs inside the creature. Five years before that, a 5-year-old boy who was trying to save a puppy from a crocodile in a mangrove swamp near his family’s home in Queensland, Australia, was seized by the reptile. Police captured the crocodile and used a scope to confirm that it had eaten the boy, but at the request of the child’s parents, they did not euthanize the animal.
Pigs — These animals aren’t usually considered predators. But they’re open-minded about their food, and in rare cases, it’s included children, according to news reports. Last year, police in Hyderabad, India, said stray pigs had killed and partially eaten a 5-month-old baby girl. In 2014, residents of a village in eastern China cut open a pig to prove to police that it had eaten part of a 2-year-old boy. The sow had apparently attacked the child when it toddled too close to her piglets.