Animal Attacks

God's first blunder: man didn't find the animals amusing—he dominated them.

Friedrich Nietzsche: A while back, my friend and I were on a trail, and a baby coyote ran by us and into the bushes. My friend went into the bushes and pulled it out by its neck, so it was submissive. We petted the coyote. My friend got nipped on the hand. Then we put the coyote down, and it took off like a rocket. I always thought a mountain lion scar on my arm would be the coolest thing to brag about. It was kind of a quasi joke between the guys I cut trails with because the lion is a ghost cat—you usually don't get to see it, except at night. The first person that would get a scar would be the winner. But since the cat killed the mountain biker, it's not funny anymore.

“Animal chaser” Tom Sherman, San Clemente, operating engineer: We will never know why the lion attacked. There has been more mountain lion activity around here than normal. The same evening, another cat was hit and killed by a car just north of Whiting Ranch. Another lion was killed in Trabuco Canyon on Jan. 27 by a property owner who was given a permit to shoot and kill a cougar suspected of killing a sheep. The problem with the mountain lions is we do not have a good population estimate here in California. California is not a rural state anymore. We don't have as many hunters as in the 20th century. People hunt and fish less, and we aren't as educated about animals. People in general do not show a healthy respect for wildlife. I attribute it to ignorance or arrogance—a little of both. When I worked in Yosemite, people would try to get near the bucks during mating season, when they are very dangerous. Sometimes they would try to put the whole family near a deer or elk, or try to get really close to the animal for a photo. A story passed on to me from a Yellowstone ranger was about a parent putting chocolate sauce on their kid's face to try to get a bear to lick the face for a photo. Another person tried to get a bear into his vehicle to get a picture of a bear trying to drive the car.

Steve Edinger, Portola Hills, assistant chief of the California Department of Fish and Game in San Diego: Before my wife and I boarded a bird-watching boat in Botswana, we had been warned about the dangers of encountering hippos. The animal kills more humans than any other animal, not because they are hungry, but because you are a threat. We were told that if we saw them or got into a compromising position, to get the heck out of the area. I didn't really think about it too much until I began to notice bubbles coming up from the water around the boat. Since the boat's captain didn't notice, I assumed it was a scuba diver, until a big old head that could fit your body in it, with teeth as big as your forearm, came out of the water. I said, “Holy shit!” I remember thinking if his head hit the boat, it would be over for all of us. About that time, the driver noticed the hippo. His eyes got as big as saucers, and he turned the boat the other way and gunned it north. I have no doubt that if we had been two feet closer, we would have been in the water and killed by the hippo. I remember being too scared to cry. It's about as scared as I've ever been with an animal because it happened so quickly, like a car accident.

Hal Pope, Aliso Viejo, engineer: As a helicopter pilot in the first Iraq war, patrolling the Gulf's sparkling waters revealed an amazing profusion of wildlife. Flying just above the surface, we routinely spotted large pods of dolphins playing below, performing aerial acrobatics that would shame their Sea World counterparts. There were turtles, fish and a stunning variety of birds. And, of course, there were sea snakes and sharks. Lots of them—hundreds of sea snakes at a time, floating by our ship in roiling tangles. The sharks were easy to spot as they gracefully prowled the shallows of the many small islands, scores of dark, sinuous shapes in a field of turquoise. It was easy to see this place as the cradle of all life. Fascinated by the animal life, I was also, somewhere deep in my reptilian brain, afraid an aircraft mishap might force us to ditch out there in the water. I imagined awaiting rescue with only the snakes and sharks to keep us company. I didn't have to worry for long, though. Several days after the opening salvo of the Allied bombing campaign, Saddam's minions dumped millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, creating a giant slick that moved inexorably southward. Soon, there was nothing in our area of operation but a sea of black.


Scott Giffin: For more than two weeks in early 1978, the adventures of Bubbles the hippo captivated the nation. A fugitive from Irvine's Lion Country Safari, Bubbles eventually relocated to a nearby pond, peeking out at TV cameras from just above the water's surface. Eventually, she did venture out onto a hillside and was shot by park rangers with tranquilizers. She fell, her enormous girth crushing her lungs and suffocating her.

Type in “animal attacks” on, and among the 70 corresponding hits you'll find are books written specifically about attacks by sharks, bears, wolves, coyotes, lions, tigers, ants, alligators, crocodiles, killer bees, hippos, rhinos, snakes and rats. Yet wildlife attacks on humans are rare. For example, before the recent mountain lion attack on two cyclists in Whiting Ranch, there had been only 11 recorded attacks by cougars on humans in the state since 1914, resulting in five deaths. (Last year, state wardens issued 212 permits to hunt down problematic lions; 122 were killed, most of them in rural Northern California.) By comparison, according to the website Dog Bite Law, nearly five million Americans are bitten by dogs every year, with nearly 800,000 of those requiring medical attention. Dog bites send 334,000 victims to the emergency room per year—914 per day. The average number of dog-bite deaths per year is 17. The most common victim is a child.

The pit bull that lived next door to us in Big Bear had a reputation for being aggressive and territorial. I had never let my kids go near the fence because of the dog, but I was persuaded to walk over when the dog's owner asked me to see her newborn baby.

I remember looking at the dog, then turning to look at the baby. The dog must have been watching my eyes move because as soon as I looked at the baby, he let out a growl, then jumped over the four-foot fence and grabbed on to my upper lip. He hit me so hard it felt like a head butt on my face. The attack happened so fast. My kids were standing right there. After taking a slice out of my face, the dog fell back into his yard. I was bleeding terribly, so I ran into my house and yelled for my husband to take me to the hospital.

I cried for days after the attack. My face was so bruised and swollen. I kept thinking I would have a scar on my face for life. The doctors stitched me up from the lip to the side of the nose—12 stitches in all. It's been three years, and now I'm pretty much okay, except for my wrecked lip line. After the accident, I was freaked-out about my own black lab getting close to my kids' faces. The pit bull was quarantined but never disposed of, which I thought was weird.

Marsha Robinson, Westminster, environmental planner: As the grizzlies declined in number and the surviving bears moved farther from human settlement, this sort of hunting continued, but with one notable change: bears were more frequently taken alive to be used in such entertainments as bear and bull fights. The grizzly had gone from menace to source of amusement.

Englishman Frank Marryat, who wrote one of the most accurate descriptions of these fights, found nothing amusing about them, calling them “the most cruel and senseless” thing he had seen in California. (Marryat was by no means a green in the current sense of the word. In his 1855 book, Mountains and Molehills, he recounts with pride killing a grizzly cub he happened across while hunting, even though he says he found the cub to be perfectly harmless and extremely cute.) “The bear, cramped in his limbs by the strict confinement that his strength and ferocity have rendered necessary, is placed in the arena; and attached to him by a rope is a bull, generally of fine shape and courage and fresh from the mountains. Neither animal has fair play, and, indeed, in most instances, each one avoids the other. The bull's power of attack is weakened by the shortness of the tether, while the bear, as abovementioned, has scarcely the free use of his muscles. . . . The fight generally ends without much damage on either side, for the simple reason that neither of the combatants means mischief.”

Paul Brennan, OC Weekly

From the creators of MTV's Jackass comes Wildboyz, an action/adventure show spearheaded by its two stars of low moral caliber, Chris Pontius and Steve-O. In each episode, the boys travel afar to exotic lands of wonder, mystery and intrigue as America's foremost ambassadors of absurd goodwill. Engaging in close cultural encounters with a diversity of dangerous wildlife and native peoples, Chris and Steve-O discover just how far off the evolutionary mark they may actually be. Episode 1 Steve-O and Chris take a swim with a Great White shark, play football with a pack of wild hyenas, and run naked with ostriches. press release: I got picked on so much in high school. One day, I got slugged and ended up on the ground where all these people stood around in a circle and laughed at me. It was an awful situation. A month later, I was on a fishing trip with my dad and brothers. I actually caught a fish, a flounder, and pulled it aboard the boat, and it flopped around. It was such an ugly fish, and people beat it with poles and laughed at it. All of these people were just standing around, laughing at this poor, ugly fish, and at that moment, the flounder was the only living thing I could relate to on that boat. I suddenly realized that I'd become the bully. I instantly stopped eating fish.


Dan Mathews, PETA vice president, on his conversion to vegetarianism: I look forward to seeing a lion. I've seen more than 30. I don't fear them. To find one, I spend a lot of times in the hills hiking and riding, usually in areas people don't go. Not too long ago, I was riding my mountain bike and found a dead deer by the trail. I had read that lions protect their prey for five days, so two days later, I went back to the kill and stood on an embankment 100 feet above the lions and watched the two babies and the mother. They saw me, but were too busy with the kill. The best chance of seeing a lion is riding down a hill. They'll come out right in front of me. The lion gets really surprised. One night, I was riding my bike to the top of Saddleback to check out the view, and just ahead of me was a lion that went into the heavy brush. I got off my bike and walked over to the edge, but I couldn't see it. I continued on my bike. Moments later, I felt the hairs on my back stand up. I turned to see what was behind me and just saw bright blue eyes glowing in the dark. I knew right away it was a lion because at night their pupils get totally dilated. I usually don't get scared, but that night I did a U-turn and booked down to the bottom of the hill. I never did get to see the view.

Tom Sherman: A study released by a panel of global-warming researchers on Jan. 8 in the science journal Nature concluded that hundreds of species of land plants and animals around the globe could vanish over the next 50 years if industrial nations do not curtail emissions of greenhouse gases trapping heat in the atmosphere. Such a mass extinction of millions of living beings has not been experienced on this planet since the age of the dinosaurs. The study's findings were disputed by critics who said researchers didn't take into account animals' ability to “adapt.” Indeed, according to a list of extinct animals on the web encyclopedia Wikipedia, the only North American animals unable to adapt since 1900 were the longjaw cisco, depwater cisco, blackfin cisco, yellowfin cutthroat trout, silver trout, thicktail chub, Pahrangat spinedace, phantom shiner, Bluntnose shiner, Clear Lake splittail, Las Vegas dace, June sucker, Snake River sucker, harelip sucker, Tecopa pupfish, Shoshone pupfish, Raycraft Ranch killifish, Pahrump Ranch killifish, Ash Meadows killifish, whiteline topminnow, Amistad gambusia, blue pike, Utah Lake sculpin, Lake Ontario kiyi, Alvord cutthroat, Maravillas red shiner, Independence Valley tui chub, Banff longnose dace, Grass Valley speckled dace, San Marcos gambusia, Relict leopard frog, golden coqui, web-footed coqui, St. Croix racer, Edgington's lesser titmouse, Heath hen, Laysan rail, Hawaiian brown rail, Wake Island rail, passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet, Louisiana parakeet, Virgin Islands screech owl, San Clemente Bewick's wren, Lanai thrush, Laysan millerbird, Molokai oo, Hawaii oo, Santa Barbara song sparrow, Texas Henslow's sparrow, Laysan apapane, black mamo, greater amakihi, Lanai creeper, dusky seaside sparrow, Amak song sparrow, Puerto Rican long-nose bat, Puerto Rican long-tongued bat, Penasco chipmunk, Tacoma pocket gopher, Goff's pocket gopher, Sherman's pocket gopher, pallid beach mouse, Chadwick Beach cottonmouth, Louisiana vole, Southern California kit fox, Florida red wolf, Texas red wolf, Kenai Peninsula wolf, Newfoundland wolf, Banks Island wolf, Cascade Mountains wolf, Northern Rocky Mountain wolf, Mongollon Mountains wolf, Texas gray wolf, Great Plains wolf, Southern Rocky Mountains wolf, California grizzly bear, Wisconsin cougar, Caribbean monk seal, Merriam's elk, Queen Charlotte caribou and Badlands bighorn.


Some men hunt for sport,

Others hunt for food

The only thing I'm hunting for

Is an outfit that looks good

See my vest, see my vest,

Made from real gorilla chest

Feel this sweater, there's no better

Than authentic Irish setter

See this hat, 'twas my cat

My evening wear—vampire bat

These white slippers are albino

African endangered rhino

Grizzly bear underwear,

Turtles' necks, I've got my share

Beret of poodle, on my noodle

It shall rest

Try my red robin suit,

It comes one breast or two

See my vest, see my vest,

See my vest

Like my loafers? Former gophers—

It was that or skin my chauffeurs

But a greyhound fur tuxedo

Would be best

So let's prepare these dogs,

Kill two for matching clogs

See my vest, see my vest,

Oh, please, won't you see my vest!

Montgomery Burns, The Simpsons: Even though I knew there had been a shark attack near the hotel, where the 10-mile swim from Lanai to Maui finished, I was more concerned about jellyfish than sharks. In the back of my mind, I kept thinking I didn't have to worry about sharks—the boat providing support for the six-person relay would be a deterrent to any sea creature.Toward the end of my 30-minute leg, I remember noticing my teammates on the boat yelling and waving towels over their heads. I thought, “How cool of them to cheer me on to swim faster.” But as I got closer to the boat, I heard them yelling, “Shark!” At that moment, all the television shows I had seen about sharks flashed through my mind. I thought, “Should I stay still or swim?” In an instant, I made the decision to swim as fast as I could for the boat. As I reached the boat and lifted my hands for the ladder, my friends grabbed and pulled me up onto the deck. I never looked back to see the shark, but I could tell how scared my friends were by the expressions on their faces. Their eyes were wide open, and nobody said a word. I didn't really know what was going on until I saw the shark swim by the boat. It was a huge tiger shark, about 15 feet long, which continued to follow the boat. I feel very lucky that at that moment in time, the captain happened to look back and notice the dark shadow following me. I started thinking the shark didn't know I'm a human; he probably thought I was a seal. Being a fireman, I thought that if I had been attacked, I would have bled to death in the middle of the Maui Channel. I still swim in the ocean, but I'm much more careful. I don't swim where there are shark sightings. Rick Reeder, Santa Ana, fire captainEpisode 2 Our intrepid Wildboyz take on the wild kingdom for your amusement. This week, Steve-O and Pontius journey to Alaska, where they swim with bears and feed a hungry wolf from their ass. press release: Type in “shark attacks” on, and you'll get 58 corresponding hits, including Terror Below! Shark: Killer of the Deep, The Jaws of Death, and Shark Attack Coloring and Activity Book. Unquestionably the most feared and vilified animal on earth, sharks kill about eight to 10 humans per year—usually mistaking them for primary food sources—while humans kill upward of 100 million sharks annually, a pace that threatens the species' very existence.It's a personal thing. The prospect of encountering a great white shark bothers me. During the process of planning a 60-mile, around-the-clock relay swim from San Clemente Island to San Clemente, I had concerns. I called the Scripps Institute of Oceanography about risks of sharks in the channel area. They told me there are sharks out there, but a lot less of them than 20 years ago. In another 20 years, all the sharks may be fished out of the ocean. I decided to buy a shark pod to ward off sharks. I found one in Australia and had it shipped here. It's a big neoprene band, about 10 inches long, that wraps around your calf and has a long tail about four to five feet. If a shark is in the area, the tail of the pod is supposed to emit an electrical impulse, which is picked up by the snout of the shark. My understanding is that the impulse causes the shark pain, and it goes away. The radius of the pod is 10 to 15 feet. It's supposed to work in Australia.I figured this would give me peace of mind. Around midnight, I was swimming my 60-minute leg. The whole time, I kept looking down, thinking, “Do I see anything?” At one point, there was definitely something below me, an outline of something. I know I wasn't seeing things. The shape and way it was moving reminded me of a shark. I didn't have the pod on, so I got it on and swam the rest of the time with it on. I always thought the odds of being attacked by a shark were slim. But after witnessing the tiger shark incident in Maui, seeing great whites in Corona del Mar several summers ago when the whale carcass floated, and sightings last summer in San Clemente, I have a greater appreciation that, yes, they are out here. I used to not think anything about swimming around the San Clemente pier. Now I think twice about entering the water. Craig Taylor, Laguna Niguel, bank vice presidentThe largest wilderness on the planet is right at our back door. And we don't treat it with the respect it deserves. Eighty percent of all the creatures on Earth live there, and they all have to eat. And we don't go into the jungle dressed in a bathing suit with a tube of suntan cream and think we should be safe. But that's what we do in the ocean. Peter BenchleyEpisode 6 The ever-adventurous Wildboyz travel to New Zealand, where they dress up like sheep, hand-feed sharks and examine giant squid.

[ press release: While driving along the 101 in San Luis Obispo County, I noticed an old barn, so I pulled off the side of the road. I ran into the owner of the barn and asked him if it was okay to take some photographs. He said no problem but warned me about the gander [male goose]. Well, I'm no farm boy, so I wasn't sure if he was serious. I continued on to the barn and looked through my camera lens only to see this gander come flying out of the barn door. I thought, “This big bird is going to attack me or stop.” But then the goose, which was about four feet tall, put his head down and his wings up and started to pick up speed. He had no intention of stopping. He landed on the back of my leg and started pecking. By this time, I was running. The gander was honking at me while flapping his wings and grabbing at my back, butt and back of my legs. I couldn't see, but it felt like he was flying into me and hitting me with his beak—which felt like a sharp stick—and scratching me with his claws. He kept lifting off the ground and landing on me. This went on for about 75 yards. Fortunately, I didn't get hurt because I had on a pair of jeans.The whole time, I kept thinking, “This is absolutely absurd—being chased by a goose.” I guess he finally figured he had made his point and stopped. I had no idea that ganders were so vicious or protective. I never got my pictures of the barn. I just left, disgraced and exasperated. Later, I got some goose-paté relish and relished eating it later.

Tom, English teacher, Irvine: Let me tell you about a little monkey. His name was Jerry. He lived right in Fullerton and Anaheim in the 1940s and '50s. Though Africa had been his home, it was in OC that Jerry was able to reach his potential. It was here that Jerry learned he could wait tables, pound nails, work a wrench and do other tasks that people, even white people, did then. He came to be known as “the world's most human chimpanzee.” Jerry's owners were also OC success stories. Anaheim native Jack Dutton was an early county millionaire; his wife, Dorothy, had been Miss Anaheim in 1930. Into this ascendant life came Jerry, bought as a baby by the Duttons and raised as one of their own, kind of like Tarzan in reverse. Jerry learned to dress himself and to use a toilet. He supped at the dinner table and even slept in the same bed as the Duttons. Jerry and the Duttons' menagerie of other animals started drawing complaints from their Fullerton neighbors. So in 1951, the couple bought a five-acre orange grove in Anaheim, planted palm trees and created the Jungle, a zoo/amusement park/restaurant/bar/gift shop where Jerry could cavort and pound nails all day for throngs of adoring humans. But like a furry Icarus, Jerry had dared too much, and he was doomed to plummet. In 1955, Disneyland opened in Anaheim, stealing the Jungle's thunder. The crowds stopped coming, and there is no fury like a human chimp scorned. Jerry became unmanageable and went bananas when he had to be caged. He had become too humanized, and no zoo would take him. He needed round-the-clock supervision. Finally, as related in Charles Phoenix's superfine book Southern California in the '50s, it came to this: When Jerry became more and more impossible, Dutton took Jerry into a nearby orange grove and gave him a shovel. “I had him dig a deep hole,” Dutton said. “When he was finished, I told him to jump inside. Then a policeman friend of mine shot him in the head.”I'm sorry. I'd forgotten to mention this is the saddest goddamn story in the world. “Oh, by the way, a cop shot him in the head. Like a human, right to the end,” I should have said at the outset. Jim Washburn, OC WeeklyA recent three-year study by UC Davis scientists found that mountain lions hide near wilderness trails, closer to humans than previously thought, but are seldom seen by hikers or bikers. “You can be very close to a lion and not know it,” said Walter Boyce, a UC Davis professor who directed the study. Scientists from the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center studied 20 mountain lions and their contacts with people at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park in San Diego County and the surrounding area. When the study of nine male and 11 female cougars ended last month, researchers found that only one of the study lions was still roaming the park. Eleven died during the study. Four were shot by state or federal officials for threatening or killing domestic animals at nearby ranches; four died from disease or from unknown causes; one was killed by another cougar; one was killed by a vehicle; and one starved after being burned in a fire.The mountain lion that attacked two bikers in Whiting Ranch was probably a young cat pushed out of its territory. Since the attack, I definitely have more respect for the lion. I'll give them another 10 feet out there now. Tom ShermanEpisode 5 The fearless Wildboyz travel to the vast continent of Africa, where they experience life as a zebra, make out with giraffes and get stung by scorpions. press release Lots of people can say they've been charged by an enraged rhinoceros—but how many can say they've been charged by an enraged rhinoceros in Irvine? My near-trampling happened at Lion Country Safari, a drive-through animal preserve that shall forever hold the distinction of being the Dumbest Idea in the History of Everything. I don't blame the rhino for trying to kill us. Rhinos are aggressive and territorial, sure, but they are also really stupid and can't see well. Squaring off against my aunt's bus, the rhino would have seen a big, beige, boxy thing, just about the same color as—and only a bit larger than—himself. The bus had a bad transmission, so its engine made a deep, rumbling sound—not unlike the growl of a pissed-off rhino. Our vehicle was as rhino-like as a vehicle could possibly be, and when that rhino rushed us, the poor bastard simply thought he was defending himself from a belligerent rival. Had he crashed into us, he probably would have killed himself . . . and us. At the very least, he would have tipped the bus over and badly bruised his horn. As it happened, he veered off at the last possible instant, probably hoping like hell that he'd proved his dominance and we'd run away. If so, he was right. I can still picture the rhino's smug expression in the rear-view mirror as he receded into the distance. He probably still tells his buddies about that one. Greg Stacy, OC WeeklyI have been asked this for years and have not been able to understand it myself until I read something that E.O. Wilson said, which was, “We don't just fear our predators; we are transfixed by them, prone to weave stories and fables and chatter on endlessly about them—because fascination breeds preparedness, and preparedness survival. In a deeply tribal sense, we love our monsters.” Peter Benchley, author of Jaws

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