Research Reveals The Animal Most Likely To Attack Humans And You May Not Know It Exists

The sloth bear is responsible for more animal attacks than any other species.

By Robert Scucci | Updated

A sloth bear

From the honey badger simply not giving a damn about throwing fisticuffs at any perceived sleight to an unexpected encounter with a cocaine bear or a man-eating python, animal attacks are simply a fact of life. But what’s most surprising about data collected by PLOS Biology is the animal that is most likely to attack humans, which is the sloth bear (Melursus ursinus). In fact, out of 5,440 animal attacks collected between 1950 and 2019, 1,337 were from the sloth bear.

Tigers are a close second on the list, ranking at 1,047 documented animal attacks during the same time period, but everybody already knows tigers are dangerous. This is why we’re talking about the sloth bear, because they’re kind of cute, but surprisingly aggressive! We’re not saying that you need to watch Leonardo DiCaprio‘s The Revenant as a primer, though it certainly couldn’t hurt.

The shaggy-coated sloth bear is native to India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, with a diet consisting of staples including vermin, such as termites and ants, but they’re also known to nibble on fruits that are present in their habitat. So if you’re worried about being eaten by one of these unassumingly aggressive critters, you’re in luck; they’ll probably maul you into submission in self-defense because you’re not on the menu. But of all the animals in the animal kingdom, why is this particular animal most likely to attack humans?

The answer is simple: sloth bears attack defensively but never predatorily. Make no mistake, however, because if a sloth bear perceives a threat, it will stop at nothing to neutralize the said threat, which is bad news for any humans that startle them. Another thing to consider is that defensive animal attacks are often quick and to the point, so they will go for your head or neck to do as much damage to you as quickly as possible so that they can get on with their day.

tasmanian tiger
A tiger, second most likely animal to attack humans

The important takeaway from this information is that a sloth bear will not try to eat you in most instances. Though some sloth bears will resort to nibbling on your remains, it’s just because they were curious and wanted to see what you taste like because the opportunity presented itself. And if you ever find yourself in sloth bear territory, there are safety measures you could take to minimize bodily harm or, even better, neutralize their threat before they neutralize you.

Unlike South Park’s ManBearPig, who is out to get you (according to Al Gore), the sloth bear mostly reacts aggressively to being surprised in close quarters. In other words, if you and your friends are romping around and unknowingly approach a sloth bear from a distance, you’ll have better chances of avoiding an unfavorable encounter because they’ll hear you and run off. It seems counterintuitive, but being quiet and stealthy can land you in trouble, especially if you’re close to a sloth bear without realizing it; one second, you’re sneezing, and the next second you’re getting your neck ripped out, and you’re going to have a bad time.

If you find yourself in an avoidable confrontation with the sloth bear and have to resort to desperate measures, Research Outreach has some advice to have more favorable odds during an animal attack. If you’re feeling like Rocky Balboa and ready for the fight of your life, you’ll have a 91 percent chance of survival. But if you choose to run like you’re being chased by the walking dead, your odds of surviving decrease to 89 percent.

If you’re the type who prefers to lay back and wait for it all to blow over, your best bet to survive this kind of animal attack is to play dead. Though you might get roughed up a bit, there have been no recorded fatalities regarding sloth bear encounters. Animal attacks from defensive animals are unfortunate, but in the case of the sloth bear, there are fortunately ways to avoid a confrontation or to live to see another day if you exercise caution!