Last week I blogged about 12 dangerous Australian animals. Most of them are pretty obvious – spiders, snakes, sharks. But Australia has also cute and fuzzy animals that can kill you. They are especially nefarious because, well, they’re so darn cute.
Australian Dingo: “Who’s a good boy? You are! Yes, you are!” Aw, look how cute! Don’t you just want to take one home and toss a squeaky toy at it? Nuuuuu. The dingo is a free-roaming wild dog found mostly in the outback. Because they have lived largely apart from people and dogs, they’ve maintained ancient characteristics that put them closer to their wolf parents than their domestic cousins. This is a wild, intelligent predator. Do not let it follow you home and do not let it play with your baby.
But they’re so cute! In all seriousness, although dingoes can be dangerous, they generally avoid conflict with humans. Most attacks seems to be the result of habituation, especially through intentional and unintentional feeding, which is why it’s important to always clean up your campsite and leave nothing but footprints. And remember that dingoes are not like domesticated dogs.
Kangaroo: There’s nothing more iconic of Australia than the beautiful kangaroo. And it’s so cute! Those big eyes, that inquisitive expression, those powerful hind legs with sharpened claws that can disembowel you.
Magpie: This beautiful, black and white bird is one of Australia’s most accomplished songbird. You may not think it’s so cute after it swoops down and pecks your eyes out.
I’m going to defend the magpie because I love it so much. It is a clever and inquisitive bird, and I’ve had a few, close encounters with magpies that simultaneously amazed and terrified me. Magpies live in social groups and are territorial. They will display aggressive behaviour to defend their territories and their family groups. A small percentage of them become highly aggressive during breeding and nesting season. They will engage in an escalating series of aggressive behaviours to drive off intruders. For example, at first they will perform alarm calls, then perform distant swoops, then closer swoops, then swoop close and audibly snap their beaks, and then finally peck your eyes out. I’m kidding on that last one, but magpies have been known to injure people on rare occasions.
Cassowary: This flightless bird may look about as harmless as a chicken, but do not be deceived. For starters, chickens are mean. Second, the cassowary is huge! It stands about 6 feet tall and it has enormously powerful legs with a dagger-like claw to kick you with and inflict serious injury.
Cassowaries are actually very shy. They have attacked people, but a historical study of cassowary attacks showed that most of them were due to human provocation. It’s a big, wild animal. Leave it alone.
Koala: Koalas are so cute and cuddly like teddy bears. Teddy bears with Freddy Krueger claws.
The koala’s diet of eucalypt leaves has limited nutritional and caloric content. As a result, koalas are largely sedentary and sleep up to 20 hours a day. Just let them sleep.
Tasmanian devil: We all know this one thanks to Looney Tunes. Cute, eh? It’s like a big… rat? This dog-sized carnivorous marsupial has a terrifying screech that will be the last thing you hear. It generates the strongest bite per unit body mass of any living mammal and there’s nowhere to go. The Tasmanian devil is capable of surprising speed and endurance and it can climb trees and swim across rivers. It will chase you and wear you down and then eat you.
Devils are not harmless, but their disposition and danger have been greatly exaggerated. Like many animals, it doesn’t seek conflict or confrontation with humans. Devils will remain still when in the presence of a human; some will also shake nervously. You’re very unlikely to come across one in the wild. Devils can only be found in Tasmania and they are endangered. Sadly, an aggressive parasitic cancer threatens their survival.