With over 500 different species spread over 17,000 islands, it’s no surprise that Indonesia is home to some of the world’s most dangerous animals, and a number of these are native to Bali.
Some of them are famously nasty (such as the Komodo Dragon), whereas some on the list might seem surprising. But under the right circumstances (or, rather, the wrong circumstances) they can all be dangerous.
Of course if you take the proper precautions, and treat these animals with respect, you should be fine – but it’s always a good idea to be prepared. So, with that in mind, here’s a list of some of the animals in Bali that have the potential to ruin your holiday. (BTW, we’re not including snakes in this list, but you can find all you need to know about Snakes in Bali here).
Mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti)
The most dangerous animal in Bali, without doubt, is the mosquito. Diseases carried by the mosquito make it responsible for the most animal-related deaths in the world. To put that into context: mosquitoes kill more people in one day than sharks do in one century.
The bad news: Attracted to the carbon dioxide and lactic acid that’s present in our breath and our sweat, the female mosquito lands on humans and sucks blood, which she needs for feeding her eggs. The saliva that she deposits after taking her meal often carries viruses or parasites, and these can result in potentially fatal diseases such as dengue fever, chikungunya, JE (Japanese Encephalitis) and malaria.
The good news: Although there are over 2,500 different species of mosquito in the world, only 6% of them actually suck blood, and even then it’s only the females. In Bali, especially in the main resorts, the risk of catching malaria is close to zero. There have been slightly more reported cases of dengue fever, but the black-and-white striped mosquito (Aedes aegypti) that carries this is not very common in Bali.
Take precautions: Make sure you visit your doctor to get the recommended vaccinations, ideally 4-6 weeks before you travel. If you’re going hiking or on a trek, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and apply repellents such as DEET or picaridin to exposed skin.
Check that the bed in your hotel room is covered by insecticide-treated nets (ITNs), which reduce the chance of bites. Buy a can of One Push Hit (or One Push Vape) and spray it before you leave your hotel room – within 10 minutes it will wipe out every mozzie in the room.
Bali Dogs (anjing Kintamani)
Dogs? Yes, really! Street dogs can be found wandering all over Bali, and although you might want to pet one and give him some food, we strongly recommend that you don’t!
The bad news: In Bali, the majority of pet dogs end up as guard dogs for homes and businesses. They’re deliberately trained to be aggressive and hostile, and they will bite with very little provocation. It is estimated that there are 8,000-10,000 dog bites every year. A lot of domestic dogs are allowed to roam the streets and, if unclaimed, will eventually go feral. There is also the risk of rabies and other diseases which can be caught from stroking or petting a feral dog.
Whilst we’re on the subject, it’s sad but true that selling dog meat as food is still rife in Bali. Street vendors sell it on skewers (or ‘sate’) as a substitute to beef. Be on the lookout for the letters ‘RW’, short for ‘rintek wuuk’, which means ‘soft fur’.
The good news: Most of the street dogs you’ll see are part of a distinct breed known as, would you believe, ‘Bali Dog’, with an ancestry that can be traced back about 15,000 years. The official breed is the gorgeous Kintamani, with the white-furred variety especially popular as pets. By nature these dogs don’t like to be confined and prefer to roam in groups, giving an impression of being feral – in fact at least 90% of them are actually owned, not wild. So although still dangerous, dogs on the streets of Bali will most likely leave you alone if you don’t provoke them.
Take precautions: Although there are immunisations available for rabies, most experts agree that these are only necessary if you regularly work with animals, and so are not generally required for tourists. Don’t actively approach dogs, even to offer food, and seek immediate treatment if you are bitten. Also, don’t forget that a rabid dog may not be ‘foaming at the mouth’ – it may just appear a bit lethargic.
The Komodo Dragon (Varanus komodoensis)
Not strictly a resident of Bali, this lizard is a must-see if you have time to visit the four islands that make up the Komodo National Park. But they’re still worth a mention here, because they are famously dangerous (and we think they’re awesome!)
The bad news: Komodo dragons will basically attack anything in their path, including humans. The world’s largest and heaviest living lizard, these beasts can reach lengths of over 10 feet and typically weigh in at over 150 pounds. They will stalk their prey, rip open the throat with their large, shark-like serrated teeth, inject a toxin that causes anticoagulation (the inability to stop bleeding), then retreat and wait for their victim to bleed to death. They’re also not particularly fussy eaters – they’ve been known to eat their own young.
The good news: Although they are capable of killing and eating people, Komodo attacks on humans are extremely rare. Figures from the Komodo National Park show only 30 attacks in the last 45 years, with only 5 of those resulting in a fatality (the last reported accident was in 2017 when a tourist was taking a picture of a komodo eating a goat, and was unaware that another dragon was approaching him. He escaped with a nasty bite on the leg.)
Take precautions: It may sound obvious, but be careful when approaching a komodo dragon! You should only ever visit them at the National Park, and always as part of a Park Ranger-escorted tour.
Rove Beetles (Staphylinidae)
Known locally as the ‘tomcat beetle’, this tiny bug, less than a centimetre in length, caused a major Balinese panic in 2015.
The bad news: This crawling, flying bug, often mistaken for an ant, carries a toxin that is stronger than a cobra’s. It doesn’t bite or sting, but if one lands on you and you try to brush it off there’s a chance that pedarin toxin, which is present in the rove’s blood, will be released into your skin. At first you won’t feel anything, but eventually your skin will start to blister, the blister will fill with pus, and then there’s an excruciating pain that lasts for days. If you actually squish the bug whilst it’s on your skin, the resultant pain can be much worse, and the toxins can leave permanent scarring.
The good news: There have only been two major outbreaks of rove beetles in Bali, in 2012 and 2015, and they were mostly away from the popular tourist areas. There have been very few sightings in recent years. Washing shortly after exposure to Rove toxin will remove much of the pedarin before it has time to harm the skin.
Take precautions: There aren’t really any specific precautions necessary – you just need to stop and think before casually brushing one off your arm or leg. Their red-and-black colouring makes them easy to spot, so if one lands on you just leave it to fly away or blow it off you. Also, be aware that most common skin irritation remedies are pretty ineffective against rove beetle toxin – your best bet is to use hydrocortisone.
Wild Monkeys (Macaca fascicularis)
Everyone loves monkeys – they’re cute and funny. You can meet Bali’s monkeys in the Ubud monkey forest and at the Uluwatu temple, but there are a few things you should bear in mind.
The bad news: Monkeys bite, and their bite can carry rabies and herpes B, which can cause infections if untreated; in fact herpes B can prove fatal in rare cases. But the main danger is that they’re basically little thieves! If they like the look of your sunglasses, they’ll often snatch them off you. Your first instinct might be to try grabbing them back, but this will often provoke a monkey into attacking, which can involve biting and scratching. They’ve learnt to associate a plastic bag with food, so they’ll often rip open a bag to get at the goodies inside.
The good news: Apart from biting, monkeys don’t really cause much harm. An extensive study of Balinese monkeys (published in Primate magazine in 2010) found that most macaque bites don’t break the skin – they’re more of a warning than an aggressive attack. The monkeys at the temple, mainly long-tailed macaques, are very used to humans and are happy to be photographed.
Take precautions: Keep any valuables zipped in a non-plastic bag, and avoid taking food with you. Although it may be hard, you should avoid grinning at the monkeys – baring your teeth is seen as a sign of aggression and may provoke an attack, especially from the alpha males. If they do grab your belongings, avoid a tug-of-war – you’ll probably lose.
The ‘Great Macaque Shakedown’: The temple monkeys actually have a great scam going! They will steal a non-edible item, like sunglasses or a mobile phone, and sit with them on a nearby wall. They will then wait for a tasty treat to be offered by the Temple guards. If they don’t like the treat, they will reject it by throwing it to the ground. Once they find the treat acceptable, they will swap it for the stolen item. Don’t believe us? Watch it on this YouTube video. The temple guards often get a tip for retrieving the item, and we’d love to think they split the money with the monkeys!
Apart from the list above, there are a few more animals in Bali that could be potentially dangerous.
The Stonefish (Synanceia)
These sit on the seafloor and have exceptionally sharp spines along their back, which stick up when the stonefish is disturbed or threatened. The spines can inject a potent neurotoxin into bare feet if stepped on, and this can be dangerous and even fatal to humans; in fact, stonefish are arguably the most venomous fish known to man.
Sumatran Elephants (Elephas maximus sumatrensis)
Elephants are not native to Bali, but there are two sanctuaries where you can see and ride Sumatran elephants (although there have been reports of the animals being mistreated, so the term ‘sanctuary’ may be misleading). These 5-ton beasts can be very aggressive during their ‘musth phase’, when the male’s testosterone level is up to 60 times higher than normal. Even the most placid elephants become highly violent toward humans and should definitely be avoided during musth.
Centipedes, caterpillars and scorpions
There are a few different centipedes native to Bali, some of which can grow to 15cm long. Often found in compost or around plant pots, they can give a venomous bite from a pair of fangs near their head. The bite is not fatal, but can prove very painful.
Similarly, there are quite a few different varieties of caterpillar on Bali. Again not lethal, their hairs are often loaded with toxins that can produce a burning, blistering rash.
Lastly, in this section, we have the scorpion. There are three species common in Bali, all of which have a venomous sting, but none are deadly to humans. By far the meanest-looking is the Wood Scorpion (Hormurus australasiae).
Are there tigers in Bali?
Sadly, not any more. Historically, there have been three species of tiger native to Indonesia: the Javan, the Sumatran and the Bali. The Javan was made extinct in the 1970s and the Sumatran is listed as critically endangered with a estimated population of less than 400. The Bali tiger, the smallest of all the tigers in Indonesia, was the only one native to Bali. The last recorded sighting was in 1937 and it’s thought to have survived until the late 1940s or early 1950s, eventually been hunted to extinction by settlers to the island during the Colonial period.
A Final Word
In listing some of the dangerous animals in Bali, we’ve obviously highlighted the bites, stings and attacks that can occur. However, as long as you respect these animals and do not actively disturb them, the chances of any serious harm are very, very low.
Always remember that, by viewing these animals in the wild, you are entering their environment and you should treat this as an honour and a privilege. Understanding this will make your visits with these animals a rewarding, memorable and, above all, a safe experience.
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