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Monday, 17 April 2017

The most dangerous animal in Ireland

OK, you're sat in a pub, and the conversation inevitably turns to, "Mary's uncle's nephew died the other day..." and with lots of solemn nods, and a small but thoughtful sip of a pint in quiet appreciation of their passing, the talk slides into a list of the latest victims in the parish. The daughter of Micky-Joe's cousin's cancer scare. The near-drowning of that nun on Derrynane beach. The 'Stuka-bomber'-like attack by a seagull on a motorcyclist near Caherciveen last summer... Wow! What? (see HERE)

The most dangerous animal in Ireland? Not even close...

Is it getting to that time of year already? When the Dail goes into summer recess and we then enter what is known as "Silly Season" when the press, struggling to fill the newspaper columns, inevitably turn to a good old scaremongering yarn, such as those which have appeared in recent summers about killer gulls rampaging the streets and countryside, viciously attacking man and beast (see HERE).

Despite the mis-information about Silly Season gull attacks - and you can be sure they will start popping up again in the media any day now - the truth is there are far, far more dangerous animals out there. As a birder, you will end up in all sorts of strange places. That's one of the joys of birding. It incentivises you to venture to places that most other people would never even consider. I've been in sand dune desert in Morocco, a minefield in Israel, the Outback in Australia, Everest Base Camp, the Worst B&B In Ireland In Urlingford, a sewage works in Cape Town, and lost in the fog in a tiny boat off the Blaskets, all in the search for birds. I've been charged by a Rhino in Nepal, had a near-attack with a King Cobra in Malaysia, stayed in the Worst B&B In Ireland In Urlingford (did I mention that? It's still there by the way, see below), and have had to pull leeches off unmentionable and largely unreachable bits of my anatomy in the Borneo rainforest. 

The latter incident prompted one of my few attempts at poetry:

There are leeches in the forest
that go for your feet.
They creep up your legs,
and go for your 'meat'.
So by way of defence
I've posted a sentry,
a sign on my shorts saying,
'Privates, no entry.'

Every serious birder will have a litany of such stories. Seriously uncomfortable, perhaps dangerous, and even near-death experiences in bizarre places around the globe. But you can silence the gathered crowd in the local pub with this question: What is the animal most likely to kill you – in Ireland?

Great White Gull

Killer gulls? Sharks? Dogs? Bees?

Gulls? Fact is, there has yet to be a confirmed death in Ireland attributable to a killer gull, despite what the media has been (and soon again will be) whipping up. Not one. They may well have claimed a cheeseburger or two, or grabbed a 99 out of someones unsuspecting hand on Grafton Street in an unguarded moment while they tried to organise another 'selfie' but, rest assured, they have not, and are unlikely to ever, have caused a single fatality in Ireland or anywhere else.

Black-headed Alsation

So, sharks then? 

Well, according to the Shark Attack Data website (HERE), Ireland has had no fatal shark attacks ever though, in a book on deep sea angling, author Trevor Housby writes of two documented incidents. One occurred in the late 1800s when an onlooker fell from a pier in Belfast Lough during the launch of a ship and was set upon by a large shark (presumed to be a Great White) and killed in front of horrified spectators. The second was of an incident involving a salvage diver operating in the mouth of Carlingford Lough in Co. Down. As he was preparing to return onboard, a large shark made a determined close pass as he was pulling himself out of the water, uninjured, but no doubt needing a fresh set of underpants after the experience.

So, dogs then?

Ireland has yet to have a fatal dog attack, according to an article in the Independent (see HERE), although in Britain, they have accounted for 17 deaths in the past eight years, according to NHS figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph (see HERE).


No. None

Mosquitos? Bees?


Rabid Pine Martens?


The answer is a little surprising, and not a little disconcerting. 


How often, as a birder, have you set off across a field, and had your carefree stroll across green meadows somewhat thrown by the unwanted attention of cattle you noticed as you climbed over the gate but ignored thereafter? Until that is, they came thundering up to you, stopping short, then stared, snorting, waiting for your next move?

Cows are by far the most dangerous animal in Ireland. Statistics for Ireland are hard to pin down or at least, after a good while Googling for that information, I was unable to find it, but the statistics for Northern Ireland are telling, and more easily Googleable, and those for Britain are horrifying. According to figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), 74 people have been killed in Britain by cows in the past 15 years, 7 in Northern Ireland in 8 years.

In the United States, the CDC estimates that about 22 people are killed by cows each year and, of those cow attacks, seventy-five percent were described as 'deliberate attacks'. One third of the killings were committed by cows that had previously displayed aggressive behaviour. The bulk of attacks are in March and April, by cows with calves - no doubt a maternal response to a perceived threat - rather than by bulls. A Google of 'cow attacks in Ireland' will list attacks such as this one, HERE.

Ireland's most dangerous animal (Richard Croft, Wiki Commons).

So, if out surveying, birdwatching, or generally strolling around the countryside, pay special heed to the killers in our midst. Not the killer gulls. No. These killers come with big brown eyes, udders, and a propensity to eat grass. Be careful people. It's dangerous out there.

Urlingford Arms B&B. Worst B&B in Ireland. Birding takes you to all sorts.

In an otherwise bare room, there was a bed, and a telly attached to one of those high metal wall brackets near the ceiling though, after following the trailing lead downward and rooting around the skirting board at the back of the bed, I found it had no plug. Didn't matter anyway, as there was no socket within reach of the lead and no connection to an aerial. In searching for the socket, I moved the bed to find a rancid nappy, an empty whiskey bottle and an old mousetrap. The bathroom was shared with three other rooms and had been recently painted. Fine, except the fresh coat of thick, white gloss paint meant that the door could no longer be closed and, left unattended, would swing open. I retired to the bed, shuffling under the kind of sheets that give you static electricity shocks, but not before I pulled the curtains only to find they didn't meet in the middle and only reached about two thirds across. Thus I spent the night awake as the near continuous stream of heavy trucks roared by, their lights arcing across the room like lighthouse beams. Other than that, it was grand.