Though wild animal attacks are often worst-case scenarios that run through our heads while hiking or camping, the fact is that you're more likely to get attacked by a cat or dog than any feral beast. Still, there are real people out there who have narrowly escaped death from the jaws of decidedly non-domesticated animals. These animal attack survivors - whether they intentionally put themselves in danger or were just minding their own business - all have a story to tell.
The following stories - told by people who survived animal attacks - are horrifying real-life tales that involve wild animals terrorizing humans. These animals weren't in captivity, they weren't pets, and they absolutely could have been killers.
Australian diver Eric Nerhus was nearly swallowed by a 10-foot great white shark while gathering shellfish with his son and some other divers. The shark tried to eat him headfirst, and Nerhus estimates that he spent about two minutes in the shark's mouth. He had this to say during an interview with Australia's Nine Network:
Half my body was in its mouth. I felt down to the eye socket with my two fingers and poked them into the socket. The shark reacted by opening its mouth, and I just tried to wriggle out. It was still trying to bite me... The big round black eye, 5 inches wide, was staring straight into my face with just not one hint of fear, of any boat, or any human, or any other animal in the sea.
In the end, a lead-lined vest meant to weigh him down was the only thing that stopped the shark from biting him completely in half. Nerhus was transported to a hospital with severe cuts all over his head and upper body.
In 1999, 69-year-old Alaskan hunter Gene Moe was attacked by a Kodiak brown bear, one of the largest bears in the world. Moe was in the process of skinning a deer when the bear charged him. Too far from his rifle, Moe stood his ground with the only weapon on him: a four-inch Buck knife. He made a split-second decision to shove his knife down the bear's throat. After the bear clamped down on his arm, here's how the fight went:
It’s like a dog when he bites down, he grabs and twists... I didn't want to look at my arm. I thought it was gone. I had watched a lot of bears when I first came to Alaska. I noticed early on they were mostly right-pawed, like people. I saw that paw coming, and I was ready for it! I stepped back, and he kinda got me across the face and sliced (my) ear in two.
The fight didn't end there. The animal charged Moe several more times, taking a chunk out of his leg in the process. When the bear charged Moe one final time, he threw a punch straight to its snout, knocking the bear out and breaking his knuckle in the process. Moe then staggered two miles to find the rest of his hunting party, who immediately called in rescue personnel to take him to the closest hospital.
Jim Hamm and his wife Nell were 70 and 66, respectively, when a cougar jumped out at them while they were hiking through Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in California. It flew out of the trees and landed on the trail in front of them. Jim described what happened as the big cat turned to leap at him again: "That's when I realized I was going to have to fight this thing. I figured I would fight it like I would fight a dog attacking me."
The animal latched onto his arm, and as he was about to hit it with his free hand, the mountain lion knocked him over and bit off a piece of his scalp. "It was like somebody hit me with a baseball bat. I was dazed. Then I heard my wife yelling for me to fight."
According to Nell, the cougar made "a desperate, horrible sound like something I've never heard before." She turned and saw her husband on the ground, his head inside the mouth of a wild animal. After picking up a tree limb and striking the mountain lion, Nell said "[it] didn't even flinch, so all I could do was keep hitting and hitting and telling him, 'Fight, Jim, fight.' It was horrible. You can't imagine the horror of such a thing."
The lion eventually left on its own. Jim and Nell now share their story with other hikers to stress safety and the importance of awareness while on the trail.
American explorer Michael Fay had spent plenty of time in Africa encountering peaceful pachyderms before he was mauled by one. Here's what happened in a national park in Gabon according to an NPR interview with Fay (the story also appeared in National Geographic, as transcribed below):
I fell right in the trap of classic female elephant crossfire. I just thank God that I had time to turn around, grab those tusks and ride that bronco as long as I could.
I (stood) there and try to get her to stop, but she was already within a few meters of me. When she was at about a meter and a half, I decided that she wasn't going to stop, and I turned and ran.
I tripped on some bushes in the sand and fell, knowing full well that she was bearing right down on me. I turned to face her, and she was already over me and about half way down the trajectory to sticking her tusks through my chest. She missed that first stab, and her tusks were sticking in the sand four inches from my head…and then when she tried to roll on me, I thought, "I'm going to die, I'm going to be squished."
Fay estimated that the elephant tried to stab him about 15 times. Fay didn't end up dying, though he did suffer a puncture wound to his right bicep. Despite the brush with death, Fay said that his feelings toward elephants won't change.