Animal Survival Myths We Actually Believed Until Now
Vote up the myths you totally bought - until today.
Despite being a relatively rare occurrence compared with other forms of human harm, many people fear being attacked by wild animals. As movies and TV shows feature incredible stories of how people survived such attacks, the reality sets in that it's possible to encounter a deadly animal on an otherwise normal day spent outdoors.
To prepare ourselves, we often rely on theories we learned about protecting ourselves. However, much of the survival advice we received is seeded in complete myth. Even if the chances are slim that we'll ever experience a wild animal attack, we at least want to have the proper protocol stored in our minds for our next outdoor adventure.
This list features animal survival lore that we actually believed until now. Vote up the tales you totally bought.
- Photo: Bernard DUPONT / Flickr / CC-BY-SA 2.0
Fewer than 100 people worldwide are attacked by sharks each year. When it does happen, it's most likely because someone unintentionally swam near a shark's feeding grounds, or caused the animal to feel threatened. Even then, most injuries are not life-threatening.
That doesn't stop the public from fearing the fish and making wild claims concerning survival. While many people believe that punching a shark in the nose is the best chance at escape, zoologists say this is a bad idea. Because the snout is so close to the mouth and numerous rows of teeth, this tactic places a potential victim in greater danger.
Instead, the best option is to aim for the shark's gills or eyes - body parts that are much more vulnerable than the nose.
- Photo: Bernard DUPONT / Flickr / CC-BY-SA 2.0
Despite their massive size and weight, hippos can run as fast as horses once they reach land. While the animals are vegetarians and aren't interested in eating humans for sustenance, the mammals are easily frightened and attack when they feel threatened. It's estimated that angry hippos kill around 500 people yearly in Africa.
Still, just because they can technically outrun people doesn't mean it's not worth trying to escape. To live through a possible attack, survivalists suggest weaving in and out of obstacles instead of running in a straight path. The best option is to look for a tree to climb or find some other form of higher ground to avoid the hippo's wrath.
- Photo: Ianaré Sévi / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.03600 VOTES
MYTH: You Should Run From An Alligator In Zigzags
Alligator attacks have a relatively low occurrence. While Florida boasts of being home to more than 1 million of the scaly reptiles, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports only 26 fatalities from 1948 to 2021.
Still, alligators remain a prominent worry in the minds of humans. To escape an encounter, many who fear them believe that running in a zigzag pattern will somehow reduce the threat and save them from becoming an alligator's snack.
However, alligator expert Gator Bill Robb points out that running in such a way only creates less of a distance between a person and its possible attacker. Instead, he suggests:
Raise your hands, look as big as possible, back up, and once you’ve made yourself look large, if the alligator doesn’t retreat, get out as fast as you can in a straight line.
- Photo: National Park Service / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain
Running away and hiding seems like the most obvious response to coming in close contact with a mountain lion. In reality, those reactions could get a person killed.
Also called cougars and pumas, the large cats typically avoid humans and will move away from hikers. Generally, they consider humans neither a food source nor a threat. However, if a person sees one and turns to run away, the feline will usually default to its natural inclination to chase prey. Crouching down can also trigger the cat to come after you.
If the mountain lion isn't acting aggressively, stand up straight, make eye contact, and back away calmly. If it seems ready to attack, appear as large as possible, raising your arms over your head and spreading your jacket or shirt. Tell the cat off in a loud, firm voice and throw items like branches or stones near it. If all else fails and it attacks, fight back ferociously, scream loudly, and try to protect your neck and head.
- Photo: Rufus46 / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 3.0
If a person is very close to a charging gorilla and has no other option, becoming loud, showing teeth, and matching the gorilla's aggressive behavior may ward off an impending attack. However, safari specialists warn this tactic should only be used as a final resort.
A much better idea is to remain as quiet as possible, crouch down, and slowly step away. This shows the large primate that you aren't threatening, and that you recognize the animal's dominance. Do not make eye contact. Sometimes it's also useful to act disinterested in the ape and become completely absorbed in the surrounding environment, such as plucking or eating leaves.
- Photo: Derek Keats / Flickr / CC-BY 2.06428 VOTES
Myth: Staring A Leopard In The Eyes Will Keep It From Attacking
When it comes to encountering predatory animals, some people think that direct eye contact helps assert dominance and keeps them from attacking. While this is true for some wild cats - including the cheetah - a person who comes in close contact with a leopard should definitely look away.
Leopards consider eye contact a direct challenge by an opposing threat and will most likely attack someone who dares to stare them down. Still, some advice that applies to other wild cats does remain true for leopards - a person's best option for survival is to make themselves seem as large and as loud as possible, while slowly backing away from the potential attacker.