Some 5,000 giant anteaters are thought to exist in the wild, and encounters with humans are rare and largely harmless. The hairy animals with long noses and an appetite for insects do sport "pocketknives" for front claws, AFP reports, which they typically put to use digging into anthills. In two separate incidents in Brazil, however, the 4- to 7-foot-long animals have dug into people instead, and the hunters who encountered them bled to death after being punctured in their thighs and upper arms; one man was hit in the femoral arteries. Both cases, one in 2010 and one in 2012, have just been described in scientific literature this month.
"These injuries are very serious and we have no way of knowing whether it is a defense behavior acquired by the animals," one researcher says, adding that it's important to give the anteaters space. One estimate has their population down by about 30% in the past decade due to loss of habitat, wildfires, hunting, and roadkill, and they are now considered a vulnerable species. An expert in Brazil says she hopes the news of the incidents doesn't further threaten the animals: "We have a lot of problems with this species because people believe that (they) bring bad luck and kill the animal on purpose." Adding to the trouble: Anteaters have poor vision and are known for being easily startled. (Read more anteaters stories.)