Risky human behavior is to blame for half of all large animal attacks on people, researchers say.
The researchers - led by Vincenzo Penteriani of the Spanish Council for Scientific Research in Spain - say they hope their results will bring about better education to help prevent such attacks in the future.
They note that although large carnivore populations are on the rise in developed countries, these increased numbers are not necessarily responsible for the rise in the number of human attacks; the increasing number of people who take part in outdoor activities, however, could be the root of the problem.
Because there has been an increase in the number of large animal attacks on humans, the researchers say there is "now more than ever, a need for objective and accurate information regarding [...] potentially risky situations and risk-enhancing human behaviors."
Until now, however, the few studies available on the topic have focused on single carnivore species, making a comprehensive view of the pervasiveness and mechanisms behind such attacks difficult to flesh out.
As such, the researchers examined wildlife databases that contained information about animal attacks on humans in North America, Russia and Europe.
Half of large animal attacks result from risky human behavior
The large carnivore attacks the researchers studied included bears, wolves, coyotes and cougars, and they took place between 1955-2014. In total, there were 697 reported attacks during this period, and the team discovered that the number of attacks has been rising each year.
From the data, the researchers were able to ascertain the circumstances surrounding the attacks as well as human activities in the wild.
The team found that around half of the documented attacks were a result of "risk-enhancing human behaviors," which include leaving children unattended in wild areas, allowing dogs to walk off leash or tracking an animal.
They write that "lack of knowledge of people about how to avoid risky encounters with large carnivores engenders risk-enhancing behaviors, which can determine an increase in the number of attacks if more humans are sharing the landscape with large carnivores."
The researchers add:
"Prevention and information that can encourage appropriate human behavior when sharing the landscape with large carnivores are of paramount importance to reduce both potentially fatal human-carnivore encounters and their consequences to large carnivores."
Forget the bear, mosquitoes are more troublesome
The team notes that "denominator neglect is a well-studied phenomenon leading humans to overestimate the risk of rare events that evoke strong emotions."
Exaggerating the risks of large animal attacks on humans serves to heighten human fear, setting off a vicious cycle that "may affect the increasingly positive conservation status of many of these contentious species."
Interestingly, the researchers call attention to the fact that the number of attacks on humans by bears, for example, is relatively small when compared with the havoc that smaller animals wreak on humans, including mosquitoes, spiders and bees.
According to Statista, mosquitoes are the world's deadliest animal to humans, followed by humans themselves and then snakes:
The latest Zika outbreak and the panic surrounding it illustrate how a big problem can come from such a tiny animal - in this case, the mosquito.
The researchers suggest that educating the public about how to conduct themselves in the wild could reduce the number of large animal attacks on humans.
Medical News Today recently investigated mosquitoes and the Zika outbreak.