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Humans are the deadliest creature – but one

Updated Friday, 16th May 2014
Count the numbers of humans whose death is attributed to an animal, and there are some surprises, writes Dick Skellington.

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Militant mosquito armed with a machine gun and smoking a cigar

You do not need to be a visionary in a world with so many conflicts and wars raging – in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere  – to calculate that when it comes to killing human beings, the human being is almost in a class of its own.  

It is estimated that in the contemporary world over 475,000 people are killed each year by other human beings. But human beings are not humanity's biggest killer. No, that honour goes to the tiny mosquito which kills over 725,000 each year. This is the finding of Bill Gates in a recent blog to publicise World Mosquito Week.

The list of the world's 15 deadliest creatures is dominated by human beings and the mosquito. In fact the number of deaths attributed to mosquitos (Spanish for 'little fly') is greater than the number of deaths inflicted each year by the other top 14 killers put together, including human beings.

Gates explains: "Malaria threatens half of the world’s population and causes billions of dollars in lost productivity annually."  There are more than 2,500 species of mosquitos, found in over 100 countries and every region apart from Antarctica. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has long been working on ways to eradicate malaria, as well as other mosquito-borne diseases, which include dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis.  

Of other killers the humble snail figures highly too. Diseases such as schistosomiasis are caused by freshwater snails. Chagas disease carried by bugs, sleeping sickness spread by tsetse flies and rabies, which is transmitted by dogs, are also responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.

Large killers such as the shark (with 10 a year), the lion (with 100) and the crocodile (with 1,000), do not come close to man and mosquito kind. Malaria, carried by the deadly mosquito, is also responsible for the suffering of over 200 million people a year. Although I guess a greater number of humans are affected by the impact of war. You only have to look at the BBC footage of Aleppo to see the effect killing has on an entire society.

Critics of the blog focused on the underestimation of human deaths. Some calculate that the number of humans killed by other human beings is far, far greater, since in war zones not all deaths are counted. Others wondered if deaths by traffic accidents ought to be included. What Gates has done is provide a bottom line estimate, a chilling one nonetheless.

Perhaps we should do something similar to World Mosquito Week to try and deter the slaughter of humanity at its own hand. World Human Week, anyone?

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it.
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Please note: The opinions expressed in Society Matters posts are those of the individual authors, and do not represent the views of The Open University.


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