An alligator illed a 2-year-old boy at a Walt Disney World DIS, -1.77% resort in Orlando, Fla. earlier this month, prompting discussions about safety in the area where he was pulled underwater.
Despite the fear this type of tragedy causes, the odds of a fatal alligator attack in the U.S. are small. In fact, bees, wasps, hornets, dogs and even cows kill more Americans each year than alligators — or even sharks — do.
The Washington Post used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — the U.S. health agency based in Atlanta — to show which animals cause the most deaths in the country each year. The CDC tracks Americans’ deaths based on their death certificates to keep detailed records on mortality.
Bees, wasps and hornets caused the most deaths, an average of 58 per year between 2001 and 2013, according to the Post’s analysis of the CDC data. Cows killed 20 people each year, dogs killed 28, and a separate category called “other mammals” accounted for 52 deaths per year. Sharks, alligators and bears killed one person each year, on average.
The deaths caused by cows don’t include health problems from eating beef; according to the CDC, most of the cow-related deaths happen to people working with cattle in enclosed areas or herding them. Their handlers typically have died from blunt force trauma to their heads or chests.
That said, alligator attacks happen more often than once a year; they just aren’t always fatal.
Alligators bit nine people in 2015 in the state of Florida, and one of them fatally — a 61-year-old man who was snorkeling was killed by a 12-foot alligator — according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That was slightly fewer bites than in the preceding years; in 2013, alligators bit 15 people, and in 2012 and 2014 they bit 10.
Because in Florida’s population has been growing (it reached more than 20.2 million in 2015, up from 18.8 million in 2010, according to the U.S. Census) there has also been an increase in alligator complaints, according to the Commission; it has fielded an average of 16,000 alligator-related complaints each year in the last decade. As a result, the Commission has a Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program that allows the killing of 7,000 “nuisance alligators” each year.
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The Commission gives a few safety tips for living alongside alligators, including never feeding them, swimming inside posted swimming areas, avoiding swimming at night when alligators are most active, keeping pets out of the water and, obviously, leaving the alligators alone.