While in Kenya and on safari, we were warned on many occasions about the danger posed by some of these awesome animals we were seeing from the "safety" of our open-air vehicle.  What bothered me, though, is the overuse of the superlative.  I feel it is impossible for 3 to 4 different animals to each be considered the "most dangerous", "most lethal", "most vicious", and other frightening descriptions.  When it comes down to it, I think the most lethal is probably the most dangerous and the one I most want to avoid meeting on foot.  So it's time to break down these terms and identify which of these species is really your worst nightmare.

First, the short list of those animals commonly given these attributes: the elephant, the hippopotamus, the buffalo, the crocodile, and the lion.

The buffalo.  Generally this animal gets the description "most dangerous", or just meanest.  Our guide informed us that these are very territorial, and would actually hide in the grass if they knew you were nearby, only to pounce on you and gore you to death.  Simply because you were on their land.  They also stay in huge herds, so it wouldn't be just one buffalo to contend with. It could be hundreds. And here's the kicker: they are herbivores.  They don't even make a tasty meal out of your corpse, but rather leave you to be picked apart by hyena and vulture. 

The African elephant.  Elephants are also very territorial.  If they are surprised, they will attack and trample you. They are very protective of their young, and apparently being between them and their source of water is a terrible idea.  Both males and females have quite large and terrifying tusks.  They can move quickly despite their size, and you really just don't have much chance if they decide not to like you.  Our guide acted as though this animal is the one she would cut the widest path to avoid.

The hippopotamus.  These giant (3-4 ton!) semi-aquatic mammals like their space as well, and even more warnings are doled out with regard to you not positioning yourself between them and water.  They hang out in rivers and lakes in large groups for most of the day, and come out at night to feed on grass.  They've been known to topple boats without provocation.  (A fact Alli is glad she did not know when they boated by the group above.) You probably know or have even seen pictures of how they are able to basically dislodge their jaws and open their mouths large enough to eat school buses full of children.  They also have very big teeth.  And apparently they can outrun humans.  And once again, really herbivores.

The crocodile.  In Africa, the Nile crocodile can grow to ridiculous sizes - 18 feet long and weighing up to a ton. They lurk in and do not venture far from the water, meaning that you can very significantly reduce your odds of being a crocodile's next victim by staying firmly on dry land.  Still, people needing to venture in for their bathing and food collection regularly provide the crocodile with food... which by the way, they can go without for up to 2 years.  That's just not fair.

The lion.  The undisputed king (or queen) of the jungle.  I would venture to guess that if you did not do much reading beforehand, you might count the lion as the animal you'd least like to encounter while lost on the savanna.  They are mighty and strong.  They could probably kill you by heart attack with a simple roar.  Luckily, the big males are very lazy and prefer to let the ladies do the hunting and children tending.  But I'd avoid getting too close to the cute little cubs if I were you, the ladies work in teams.

Lots of big, scary animals.  But who really wins the contest?

Random statistics gathered on the internets:
The Rhinoceros (just for reference): 12-14 fatalities per year.
Lions take out around 70 per year.
Hippos are responsible for 100-150 deaths per year
Cape buffalo - 200 fatalities per year
Elephants kill up to 600 people per year
Crocodiles rack up around 2000 kills each year
(and we didn't even discuss the snakes.  or scorpions...)

Hmm.  It's an oft-repeated statement that the hippo, surprisingly for most, is the animal that kills the most people in Africa.  My search would seem to indicate that the crocodile deserves a larger share of your fear. However, I did find some sources indicating that this is worldwide (elephants too), while perhaps if you are in Africa, and you are killed by a wild animal, it is most likely that it will be a hippo.

Ultimately, this search only informs me as to why the superlatives can be applied to many different animals. I don't think anyone actually knows the answers, one person makes up the statistics and others copy them. Like I just did.

Actually most everyone tends to agree that the mosquito is much more dangerous than all of these combined, accounting for upwards of 2 million deaths worldwide per year, by transmitting malaria-causing parasites (and dengue and yellow fever for fun as well). So the smartest thing we did was take our malaria meds and wear bug repellent.

Being very still and quiet while the elephants walked by probably didn't hurt though.