The Greatest Disaster Suffered from Animals

Worst ever crocodile attack

August 9th, 2009

The largest number of human deaths by an animal in a single attack may have occurred during the Battle of Ramree Island, on February 19, 1945, in Burma. Nine hundred Japanese soldiers attempted to retreat from a Royal Navy attack across ten miles of mangrove swamps inhabited by thousands of Saltwater Crocodiles. Twenty soldiers were later captured alive by the British, and almost five hundred escaped, but many of the remainder may have been eaten by the crocodiles, although it is impossible to know how many deaths can be directly attributed to the crocodiles instead of to combat-related causes or thirst. The hellish experience of the retreating soldiers was  compounded by huge numbers of scorpions and tropical mosquitoes.

The naturalist Bruce Wright, who was fighting with the British, claimed that the crocodiles attacked and ate numerous soldiers:

“That night was the most horrible that any member of the motor launch crews ever experienced. The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp punctured by the screams of wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on earth. At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left…Of about 1,000 Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about 20 were found alive.”
However, these claims are disputed as about, about 500 Japanese soldiers escaped from Ramree despite the intense blockade instituted to stop them. If Wright’s claim is true, however, the Ramree crocodile attacks would be the worst in recorded history.

Note: The Guinness Book of Records lists the Ramree crocodile attacks under the heading “The Greatest Disaster Suffered from Animals”.

  • Another candidate for the worst animal attack must go to a number of incidents involving whitetip sharks which attacked large numbers of helpless people after their ships were sunk during WWII. More here

Books about Crocodiles

To my knowledge there is only one book on the Ramree disaster which is a Japanese novel Dragon of the Mangroves (thanks to Ryan for putting me on to this).

There are also some very reputable guides to the world’s crocodiles. Pick of the bunch:

Crocodiles and Alligators of the World (Of the World) (More expensive)

Crocodiles and Alligators of the World provides a broad overview of all 22 species of crocodilians. Among the oldest surviving vertebrates on the planet – they have been around for approximately 200 million years – these reptiles have been depicted in many different roles in the literature and legends of cultures around the world. And while many people fear these strange creatures, crocodilians have captured the imaginations of human beings as few other animals have. An expert in the field, David Alderton describes the lifestyle, zoology, distribution, and conservation of crocodiles in this readable, highly informative volume. Their fascinating evolution, from the age of the dinosaurs to the present, is presented in detail. Despite their popular image as dangerous creatures, or perhaps because of it, many crocodile and alligator species are in danger of extinction. Yet, no crocodilian species has gone extinct in the time since humans became dominant on the planet, a testament to their resilience and adaptability. This comprehensive survey of crocodiles, alligators, and caimans provides a captivating introduction to what is known about crocodilians
Crocodile: Evolution’s greatest survivor (Cheaper)
This is the fascinating and extraordinary story of the crocodile, one of evolution’s greatest survivors.

See also