A Brief History
On August 25, 1823, mountain man and fur trapper Hugh Glass was attacked by a Grizzly Bear while on a fur taking and exploring expedition in what is now South Dakota. The terrible injuries Glass suffered and his fierce determination to live have been recalled for history by not 1, but 2 major motion pictures, Man in the Wilderness (1971) and The Revenant (2015). We have previously discussed this famous incident in our article, “10 Incredible Tales of Survival.” Today we will discuss 10 cases of animal attacks on human beings that are famous or infamous, either for their deadliness, unusual nature, or even comedic value. Several famous people (including a 20th Century King of Greece) have been killed by rabies or other infection caused by animal bites, and a famous snake handling Pentecostal religious figure died of a venomous snakebite in Florida in 1955. What animal attacks on people would you include on such a list? (Note: We gave sharks a pass this time!)
1. Hugh Glass Grizzly Bear attack, 1823.
A trapper and frontiersman with a fur trapping party known as Ashley’s 100, Glass was in South Dakota with several other trappers when he was attacked by a Grizzly Bear and horribly mauled. Glass suffered a broken leg, bites and claw injuries that included his ribs being laid bare. His scalp, face, back, shoulder, arm and hand had suffered terrible wounds. His companions killed the bear, but Glass appeared to be doomed. As the party had previously been attacked at least twice by Indians (Glass had been shot in the leg during a battle with Indians in 1822), the men decided it was best to leave the area. Expecting Glass to die the first night, the men were amazed when Glass was still breathing. For 5 days they dragged him along with them, but fearing hostile tribes, decided they must leave him behind. Two trappers were left with Glass to bury him when he died, but these 2 chickened out and took off to protect themselves, taking Glass’s prized rifle and other belongings, including his knife, with them. Heck, Glass was in his 40’s, quite old for a Mountain Man. Incredibly, Glass did not die, and began a trek to salvation, only able to crawl because of the broken leg. Glass survived on berries, roots, rattlesnake, and carrion from a wolf kill, setting his own leg and eventually being able to stumble along on 2 feet. Part of his incredible journey included rafting on a river, and after 6 weeks he shocked the outpost at Fort Kiowa by showing up alive. On his journey, Glass allowed maggots to eat infected flesh in his wounds to prevent gangrene. The story of Hugh Glass and his amazing tale of survival is shown in high definition in the 2015 major motion picture, The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Glass. Hugh Glass died in 1833 during a battle with Arikara Indians, at the age of 50.
2. Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard killed and eaten by Grizzly Bear, 2003.
By now after the first 2 entries, you should get the idea that Grizzly Bears (aka, Brown Bears or Ursus arctos) are particularly hazardous to humans. They are notoriously hard to kill and when they decide to attack, even fatal wounds often do not deter their assault. Treadwell, born Timothy Dexter on Long Island, New York in 1957, was a documentary filmmaker and had been living with, filming, and studying Brown Bears in Alaska for 13 years when one day things went horribly wrong! On October 5, 2003, while studying bears in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, Treadwell and his girlfriend were attacked and eaten by a 28 year old bear. How do we know the bear was 28 years old? Because a suspect bear was shot and the remains of the man and woman were found inside the bear. When a bush pilot found the scene of the disaster, only Treadwell’s head, his right forearm and hand, and part of his spine were uneaten. Amie was likewise mostly consumed. A video camera found near the scene of the attack was found to have no video record of the attack, but it did have terrifying audio of the screaming victims. The 6 minute audio captures Treadwell screaming when attacked, followed by Aime trying to beat the bear off her boyfriend, the bear carrying Treadwell off and then Amie being attacked. The stuff of nightmares! This horrible bear attack was also the basis for a motion picture, Grizzly Man (2005), a documentary about Treadwell.
3. Jimmy Carter attacked by killer bunny, 1979.
You may know James Earl Carter, former President of the United States, as a soft-spoken, kindly old man, but back when he was President he was an avid outdoorsman, a man of the wilderness not afraid to face the terrors of the beasts that roam the countryside of Georgia. Carter was fishing alone in a small jon boat when a cottontail rabbit swimming in the water approached his small craft. Carter, fearing the rabbit might have some disease such as rabies because of this odd behavior, discouraged the rabbit from reaching the boat by smacking his paddle on the water near the (presumably) now terrified bunny. Unfortunately for Carter, who was in his first term as President and was keen on running for a second term in 1980, a White House photographer captured the scene on film. Carter looked ridiculous in the picture, but initially the White House refused to release the embarrassing photo. The Associated Press, who had gotten wind of the incident by Press Secretary Jody Powell blabbing about it (he should have been fired!), ran a story and The Washington Post used the story with a cartoon of a terrified Carter vs. killer bunny in a parody of the movie Jaws. When the photo of the incident turned up during the Reagan administration, it was released to the public, forever adding to the depressing and unfortunate popular view of President Carter.
4. Charla Nash, horribly disfigured by friend’s pet Chimpanzee, 2009.
The pet Chimp, named Travis (pictured above), was not only a companion of his owner in Stamford, Connecticut, but was also an acting animal, having appeared in television commercials and television shows. Travis was 13 ½ years old when the attack occurred, and he was a fearsome 200 pounds of muscle and teeth, stronger than any man. The 55 year old Charla Nash went to visit her friend, Sandra Herold, on February 16, 2009, when the raging Chimp suddenly attacked. Travis had been taking medication for Lyme disease which may have made him edgy, and the fact that Charla had been sporting a different hair style than the one Travis was familiar with may have provoked the simian. Travis attacked Charla with incredible fury, and the 70 year old Sandra beat him with a shovel in a desperate attempt to end the gruesome assault. The 911 call Sandra made conveys the terror and desperation of the situation. The police responded and shot Travis to death, but not before he had bitten the face off the innocent victim, Charla, leaving her permanently blinded and disfigured. The crazed Chimp had also bitten off both of Charla’s hands, and along with chomping off much of Charla’s face, including some of the bone, caused significant brain injury as well. The hospital ER staff, though accustomed to terrrible injuries, was left traumatized by the extreme nature of the injuries the sad victim had sustained. The ER staff was given therapy of their own for dealing with the horrific incident. Charla was flown to the world renowned Cleveland Clinic (where the author had life saving heart surgery in 2012 when his aorta blew apart) and later appeared before horrified television audiences to tell of her ordeal and show her horrendous disfigurement. Charla later received a face and hands transplant at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in 2011, though the new hands had to be removed due to poor circulation caused by an infection. Nash sued Herrold for $50 million, though Herrold had a net worth of only $10 million. Sandra Herrold died in 2010, at the age of 72 (of a ruptured aorta aneurysm, the same malady that sent the author to emergency open heart surgery), and her estate eventually paid a settlement of $4 million. Along with Charla’s appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show , Animal Planet featured an episode of Fatal Attractions (“Chimps”) and the story spread around the world. Nash’s lawsuit against the State of Connecticut was dismissed, though the state did change its laws covering the keeping of dangerous animals. Before her death, Sandra Herrold was harassed by members of PETA, which opposes the keeping of exotic pets.
5. Roy Horn, tiger attack, 2003.
The German-American magician act was a famous duo that regularly performed in Las Vegas, featuring magnificent white lions and white tigers in their act. On October 3, 2003, while performing at the Mirage casino in Las Vegas, Roy Horn (born Uwe Ludwig Horn in Germany in 1944) was suddenly attacked by one of the tigers named “Montecore,” which clamped down on the entertainer’s neck and dragged him around until other performers and stage hands could get the beast to let the hapless Horn go. Roy was rushed to the hospital, where his life was saved despite extreme blood loss. While being transported to the hospital, the gravely injured Roy Horn had the presence of mind to say of his beloved feline performer, “Montecore is a great cat. Make sure no harm comes to Montecore.” Horn later claimed that he had suffered a stroke and that the tiger was merely trying to rescue him by dragging him offstage to safety. The injury Horn suffered left him unable to continue his career and left him somewhat crippled. Montecore died in 2014 of natural causes.
6. DeDe Phillips kills rabid Bobcat with bare hands, 2018.
Bobcats (are they actually “Robert-cats?”) are famous for their ferociousness. Scientifically known as Lynx rufus, the fearsome felines are generally about 20 pounds, though they can range from 14 to 40 pounds adult weight. When Hart County, Georgia native DeDe Phillips, age 46, encountered one of the crabby cats, the cat probably never realized the mistake it had made in messing with the wrong grandma! Somewhat prophetically, Phillips had just stuck a bumper sticker on her new truck, one that read, “Women Who Behave Rarely Make History” and had gone outside with her camera to photograph her new bumper sticker when the rabid feline attacked. Phillips fought back hard as the cat jumped on her and bit and clawed the woman. Incredibly, DeDe did not scream or shout because she did not want to awaken her sleeping 5 year old granddaughter! Along with bruised and bites, Phillips also suffered multiple broken fingers as she struggled with the raging Bobcat, but managed to kill the sick animal with her bare hands. Only then did she call for help. Her son responded and stabbed the inert cat to make sure it was indeed dead. Lab results showed the animal was infected with rabies and Phillips was treated for exposure to the deadly disease.
7. Toddler killed by Alligator at Walt Disney World, 2016.
A story that ripped the hearts out of Americans ran on news shows and in newspapers across the country in June of 2016 when it was reported that a 2 year old boy had been snatched and killed by a 7 foot long Alligator while his family visited Walt Disney World in Florida. The boy had been wading in shallow water when the big crocodilian struck. The desperate father of the lad tried to pull his son from the monster, but the gator won, dragging the boy into the water in front of the horrified dad. The boy’s father reported being attacked by a second Alligator while the first one swam off with his son. Searchers found the body of the boy 16 hours later stuck under the water. Alligators sometimes park the carcass of a kill underwater to allow for some decomposition to take place before ripping it apart to eat it. The horrible idea of a father struggling with a prehistoric beast over the life of his son mesmerized the nation. Disney officials later erected a concrete wall at the lagoon where the attack took place to prevent future attacks. It has been speculated that the gator had lost its natural fear of people due to long exposure to humans. In 2018 the United States was again sickened by alligator attacks that resulted in 2 women being killed. On August 20, 2018, a 45 year old South Carolina woman tried to protect her dog from an Alligator attack and paid for her loyalty to her pet with her life as the 8 foot long gator turned its attention to her, a tragedy witnessed by a resort maintenance man that was rushing over to help when the attack occurred on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. In June of 2018, a Florida woman walking her dogs along a lakeshore was dragged off and killed by an Alligator. A 12 foot long gator was captured and killed in the area, with the grim discovery of the victim’s arm (identified by a tattoo) in the stomach of the reptile. Also in 2018, another Florida woman was attacked by an Alligator, this time the 24 year old homeless woman had been swimming in a lake at night when the gator grabbed her arm. Unlike the others, this particular victim survived with bite wounds to her arm.
8. Marius Els, killed by pet Hippopotamus, 2011.
Hippos are big, as much as 3 or 4 tons, and they have a gigantic gaping mouth with foot long teeth. Worse than that, they are highly territorial and aggressive, and have been known to kill many humans, sometimes biting a canoe in half before chomping down on their hapless victim. But your own pet hippo? A South African man in 2011 found out the hard way that having a 6 year old hippopotamus as a pet could be a dangerous thing. The 40 year old Army major had been warned repeatedly that his pet, Humphrey, was too dangerous to keep domesticated. The 3000 pound river horse had been adopted as a baby, and the owner, Marius Els, had been known to ride the blumpous beast. A warning sign that went unheeded was when Humphrey chased a canoe with a man and his grandson earlier in 2011 and the hippo had killed some of the farmer’s calves. Els was found dead in the nearby river with giant tooth holes in his body. In a happier incident with a hippo, a travel guide on the Zambezi River near Victoria Falls, age 27 in 1996, was guiding a group of tourists in canoes when a bull hippo attacked, knocking a canoe into the air and launching an apprentice guide into the water. The head guide, Paul Templer, led his tourists to a group of rocks and went into the water to retrieve his apprentice guide. Suddenly, the world went dark for Templer as the giant mammal swallowed the upper half of the guide’s body! Incredibly, Templer was eventually spit out although he was again bitten by the monster. Paul suffered enormous wounds but lived to tell the harrowing tale. A second apprentice guide paddled out to Templer when he was spit out a second time, pulling the injured man into the canoe. Gaping wounds included an exposed lung, but frantic first aid saved the guide’s life. Told that his arms and a leg were beyond repair and had to be amputated, Templer was relieved to only lose one arm. Templer returned to work as a river guide once he recovered.
9. Steve Irwin killed by Stingray, 2006.
Australian adventurer Steve Irwin, better known as the “Crocodile Hunter” of television and movie fame, had the misfortune in 2006 of being stabbed in the heart by the tail spine of a large stingray while filming underwater scenes for a television series. He may not have been the first person to die this way, but it has to be one of the rarest ways to die. The video of the tragic incident has not been released to the public. Irwin was a much beloved advocate for animals and his shows served to educate millions of young and old alike about the wonder and value of wild critters. His widow and daughter carry on his tradition. The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course (2002) is a movie starring Steve and Terri (his wife) Irwin, a fictional action adventure film showcasing the charismatic Australian.
10. Hannah Twynnoy, killed by Pub’s pet tiger, 1703.
Back in Merry Olde England, back in 1703, it was apparently great sport for a Pub to feature a menagerie of wild animals, kind of a way to attract customers, we would guess. At the White Lion Pub (appropriate name!) in Malmesbury in Wiltshire a bar maid named Hannah Twynnoy made history by being the first person in England killed by a tiger. Apparently she regularly teased and tormented the beast, and one day the big cat got its revenge. her gravestone in the town cemetery stands in memory of the incident, and it reads (poetically, don’t you think?):
In bloom of Life
She’s snatchd from hence,
She had not room
To make defence;
For Tyger fierce
Took Life away.
And here she lies
In a bed of Clay,
Until the Resurrection Day.
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For more information, please see…
Hemming, Bruce Buckshot. 4 Seconds Until Impact: The Skyrocketing Attacks By Predators on Humans. Create Space, 2018.
Herrerro, Stephen. Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance. Lyons Press, 2018.