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Dangerous Animals in Ireland

Close Encounters of the Irish Animal Kind - How Not to Come to Harm

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Dangerous animals in Ireland? Come on, you must be kidding ... wolves and bears are long extinct and there are no mountain lions, snakes or great white sharks. Yet still, not all wildlife and even some domestic animals are without dangers. You more than likely won't be eaten alive by them, but you might come to harm if you act foolishly.

So, let us take a look at animals in Ireland and associated dangers. And how to avoid becoming a victim.

Cattle

Never, ever, ignore these signs ...
© Bernd Biege 2014

Cattle, especially bulls, are big, heavy and surprisingly agile once dragged out of their usual bovine ruminations. And even though most will have no horns, their hooves and sheer mass can be very dangerous indeed. Death by cattle may well be leading the statistics regarding fatal incidents of human-animal encounters in Ireland - and happens to professionals on a disturbingly regular basis.

Spotting the Danger

Cattle becomes agitated first, signs being snorting, a scratching with hooves, lowering of the head - if you notice this, it is time to head away.

Getting Safely Away

Take the shortest possible route for a safe exit, but try to walk rather than run - you really don't want to stumble. Unfortunately you will only notice agitation when quite near most bovines, so prevention is better than cure, simply stay away. Avoid trespassing on grazing land and if you absolutely have to ... stay near the edge.

First Aid

If you just get bowled over, nurse your bruises and pride. If you get trampled, better get checked for fractures and/or internal injuries.

Dogs

First things first - currently there is no rabies problem in Ireland so being bitten by a "mad dog" is not as potentially deadly as in, say, India or China. But dog bites can be painful and carry infections. Having said that ... most Irish dogs are quite friendly or at least uninterested. Exceptions always possible, especially if you stray into their territory or if their owners have mistreated them or even use them as a weapon. Though "dangerous breeds" (starting with Alsatians) are regulated in Ireland, these regulations are regularly ignored by many people.

Spotting the Danger

Barking alone signals nothing, but when snarling and bared teeth combines with flattened ears, this canine means business.

Getting Safely Away

Get out of the dog's (perceived) territory, but in a calm way and never by running (this may trigger a hunting impulse). Avoid eye contact, but keep observing the dog with your peripheral vision. Don't shout, don't wave your hands about. Basically accept the dog's claim and otherwise "ignore" it.

First Aid

If you get bitten, clean the wound with water, then see a doctor and refresh (if needed) relevant vaccinations (tetanus). More ...

Cats

Ireland has a lot of feline pets ... and a feral cat population reaching crisis level. Cats you encounter may or may not be used to interaction with humans, so don't assume they are all cuddly kittens. On the other hand it is quite safe to assume that they are not infected with rabies.

Spotting the Danger

A cat will usually hiss, spit, flatten its ears and making itself as big as possible before actually attacking - attack being the option only when cornered or protecting something (food, kittens).

Getting Safely Away

Just put some distance between yourself and the cat in a calm way.

First Aid

If you get bitten, clean the wound with water, then see a doctor and refresh (if needed) relevant vaccinations (tetanus). More ...

Deer

Bambi the killer? No, but Bambi's parents can become deadly foes to humans. Normally shy and retiring, all this changes seasonally. During the mating season, male deer will become aggressive to any competition. And female as well as male deer are very protective of their young, even attacking with ferocity.

Spotting the Danger

Normally, deer will give you a slightly disinterested look at a few hundred paces, at fifty paces or so they will move away. If they don't, and especially if there are young deer in a group, they may be contemplating a first strike.

Getting Safely Away

Backtrack or move around them in a wide circle. Never try to "Shoo!" them away.

First Aid

As for cattle attacks - though the danger from a full grown deer's antlers might be multiple stab wounds, necessitating a tetanus shot.

Weever Fish

You tend to not see them until you feel them - weever fish usually nestle into soft sand near the low water mark, waiting out the tide. Exactly where bathers step on them, occasionally sit down on them. Ramming the spikes of the weever fish into soft flesh, a very painful experience.

Spotting the Danger

Usually you don't - so try to shuffle rather than run through shallow waters at low tide. Weever fish don't attack, you step on them.

Getting Safely Away

If the weever fish notices you, he'll get away. If you notice him, it is through pain. At a moment too late to get away.

First Aid

Clean the wound, see a doctor, get a tetanus shot.

Jellyfish and Portuguese Man'o'War

The most passive of all aquatic creatures might be the most dangerous to many swimmers - they float about, waiting for prey that they can stun and kill with their tentacles (though in the case of the complex Portuguese Man'o'War this description is very naive). Contact poison makes for very painful and lasting "burns".

Spotting the Danger

If you see loads of jellyfish on a beach and the wind is coming inland, assume that there are loads more in the water. Unless you are wearing goggles, you don't really see them when swimming, only in shallow water when standing up.

Getting Safely Away

Jellyfish float, so move away with the current, you will be quicker. If you find yourself surrounded, try to pick your way through them towards dry land - without coming in contact with the tentacles.

First Aid

The most important thing is to break contact - if you have tentacles adhering to you, get rid of them. Obviously not by using your fingers (unless you are wearing protective gloves), use a stick or something similar. More first aid in case of jellyfish stings is described here.

Dolphins

Flipper or Fungi, dolphins are often regarded as man's best maritime friend, intelligent, caring, sociable. So much so that "swimming with dolphins" is a highly prized experience. Provided the dolphin is willing to participate.

Spotting the Danger

If you see a pod of dolphins with young ones, there is danger. Also if a dolphin is swimming towards you enthusiastically, he may be on attack course.

Getting Safely Away

Swim away as calm as possible, ignoring the pod. Or just float about. If you come under attack, curl up into a ball as far as possible - dolphins usually go in for full head-butts into the soft underbelly. As to getting away from an attacking dolphin by out-swimming him ... good luck.

First Aid

You may get scratches and bruises and may want to clean up and then consider a tetanus shot. If you are head-butted by a dolphin in the belly or groin, better get checked for internal injuries. After finding somebody to drive you to a doctor or hospital, as you will be out of action.

Seals

Seals are, by and large, indifferent to humans not feeding them fish - for them we are a curiosity, a species not proficient in swimming, let alone diving, that becomes boring after a short while. After which they go off and hunt for food again. With sharp teeth and strong jaws, combined with speed and agility. And perception problems - for a seal anything smallish that flaps about spells "snack".

Spotting the Danger

Warning signs or seals swimming about - that's it.

Getting Safely Away

A seal surfacing near you will most likely be just catching a breath, having a short look and then disappear again. The most dangerous part is when you flap your hands (or feet) from a boat or pier to attract attention. See above - "snack". So, in the water, keep calm. And outside the water don't offer your limbs as a tasty meal.

First Aid

Treat seal bites like dog bites - see above.

Sharks

Jaws it ain't - sharks in Irish waters are generally peaceful creatures of a smallish size. With one exception, that being the basking shark. Which is still peaceful. But a leviathan.

Spotting the Danger

You may see a basking shark breaking the surface like a huge log. Under water you will only see it when you are wearing goggles and are already quite near it. If it swims towards you, all you might see is a huge, gaping mouth, gathering small organisms.

Getting Safely Away

Don't panic! The basking shark is not out to get you and will swim around large obstacles. Let it pass, then take a breather. The most danger from an encounter is in the human having a panic attack, leading to further complications.

First Aid

Usually a hot cup of tea, a biscuit and a sympathetic ear to listen to your "brush with death".

Insects

Insects sting or bite for two reasons - in self-defence (as bees do) or to feed (as mosquitoes do). While the bite or sting may not cause any harm in itself, proteins, poisons and "pain killers" (to stop you noticing the feeding insect) come into play. This then leads to mild swelling and itching in most people, but can cause life-threatening conditions in others.

Spotting the Danger

Bees, wasps and hornets can often be heard before they are seen, just keep calm and avoid threatening them (slapping, stepping on a nest). Midges and other blood-suckers can be seen hovering in "clouds".

Getting Safely Away

Just move away, best in the direction you came from, keeping calm. In the rare case of a massive attack by bees or wasps, cover your face and throat as best as you can.

First Aid

The painful, itchy swelling after an insect bite or sting can be treated with cold water or special antiseptics. Ask for a "stick" or similar in a pharmacy. And don't forget to remove any stings still in the skin. If you have multiple stings and are starting to feel woozy, short of breath or hot, seek medical attention as soon as possible. More on bee-sting treatment ...

The Odd Ones (Maybe) Out (There) - Alien Big Cats

Just because it does not officially exist, does not mean it is not there ... tingle your inner Fox Mulder with the thought that big cats may be roaming the Emerald Isle. Not massive moggies, but pumas and similar beasts. There are repeated sightings of them and they may be escaped/released animals from travelling shows or private collections. They are aptly named Alien Big Cats, ABCs for short.

Spotting the Danger

To make it short - if you spot a big cat, you are in danger.

Getting Safely Away

Despite many reported ABC sightings in Ireland and loads more in the UK, there has not been a single case where humans where attacked. So unless you stumble off a ledge right onto an ABC, getting away is usually the cat's first thought. Should you be the first human attacked by an ABC - curl up in a ball and hope not to die. Play dead.

First Aid

First aid in most ABC encounters is a stiff whiskey. After an attack (however unlikely that is), seek medical attention instead.

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