Lion the Super Predator: A fear pervading the South African savanna

Lions are fearsome predators with sharp claws, muscular bodies, keen eyesight, fast reflexes, and powerful jaws. Their ability to hunt in groups makes them even more dangerous. Most animals avoid confrontation with lions because of their superior strength and intelligence.

“Lions are the biggest group-hunting land predator on the planet, and thus ought to be the scariest,” conservation biologist Michael Clinchy from Western University in Canada said in 2023.

In more than 10,000 recordings of African wildlife on the savannah, it was observed that 95 percent of the species reacted with intense fear to the sound of humans, who are not even considered as apex predators.

“The fear of humans is ingrained and pervasive,” said Clinchy. He continued, “There’s this idea that the animals are going to habituate to humans if they’re not hunted. But we’ve shown that this isn’t the case.”

Last year, ecologist Liana Zanette from Western University along with her colleagues conducted research at waterholes in South Africa’s Greater Kruger National Park. They played different sounds and vocalizations to animals and observed their response. The area is home to the largest surviving population of lions, and other mammals are familiar with the threat that these carnivores pose. The sounds that were played included human conversations in local languages such as English, Afrikaans, Tsonga, and Northern Sotho, along with the sounds of human hunting, such as gunshots and barking dogs. The researchers also played lion vocalizations to observe the effect they had on other animals.

“The key thing is that the lion vocalizations are of them snarling and growling, in ‘conversation’ as it were, not roaring at each other,” said Clinchy. “That way the lion vocalizations are directly comparable to those of the humans speaking conversationally.”

“One night, the lion recording made this elephant so angry that it charged and just smashed the whole thing,” Zanette said, referring to the camera setup.

The research revealed that almost all 19 mammal species were twice as likely to leave the waterholes when hearing humans talking compared to lions or even hunting sounds. The mammals include rhinos, elephants, giraffes, leopards, hyenas, zebras and warthogs, some of which can pose dangers in their own way.
Humans are the most lethal animals on the planet by far and a major driver of evolution. Unfortunately, wildlife recognizes humans as the real danger, and their fear for humans is understandable.

According to the research, it was specifically hearing human vocalizations that caused the greatest fear in these animals, whereas related disturbances such as barking dogs are a lesser threat.

Since humans are ubiquitous, escaping from us is only temporary for these animals, which means their fears are constantly being triggered. This is not good for the already dwindling populations of many savannah species, including giraffes. Continued fear alone can reduce prey animal populations over generations, as previous research has shown.

“I think the pervasiveness of the fear throughout the savannah mammal community is a real testament to the environmental impact that humans have,” said Zanette.

Zanette also added, “Not just through habitat loss and climate change and species extinction, which is all important stuff. But just having us out there on that landscape is enough of a danger signal that they respond really strongly. They are scared to death of humans, way more than any other predator.”

Conservation biologists may be able to use this knowledge to help these species. For example, by playing human conversations in areas with known poaching in South Africa, they hope to keep the endangered Southern white rhino safely away.

This news is a creative derivative product from articles published in famous peer-reviewed journals and Govt reports:

1. Zanette, L. Y., Frizzelle, N. R., Clinchy, M., Peel, M. J., Keller, C. B., Huebner, S. E., & Packer, C. (2023). Fear of the human “super predator” pervades the South African savanna. Current biology, 33(21), 4689-4696.
2. Zanette, L. Y., & Clinchy, M. (2020). Ecology and neurobiology of fear in free-living wildlife. Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, 51, 297-318.
3. Périquet, S., Fritz, H., & Revilla, E. (2015). The Lion King and the Hyaena Queen: large carnivore interactions and coexistence. Biological reviews, 90(4), 1197-1214.
4. Valeix, M., Fritz, H., Loveridge, A. J., Davidson, Z., Hunt, J. E., Murindagomo, F., & Macdonald, D. W. (2009). Does the risk of encountering lions influence African herbivore behaviour at waterholes?. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 63, 1483-1494.
5. McComb, K., Shannon, G., Durant, S. M., Sayialel, K., Slotow, R., Poole, J., & Moss, C. (2011). Leadership in elephants: the adaptive value of age. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 278(1722), 3270-3276.

Related Posts

Amazon Rainforest Ecosystem will Collapse by 2050

New research warns that the Amazon rainforest might face several pressures that could result in a large-scale ecosystem collapse by 2050, with dire consequences for the region…

Europe’s Oldest Megastructure Found in Baltic Sea

Researchers have claimed that a wall discovered beneath the waves off Germany’s Baltic coast might be Europe’s oldest known megastructure built by humans. This structure, named the…

Female Stingray Gets Pregnant Without a Male Partner

A stingray in a North Carolina aquarium became pregnant without a male in the tank. As per many scientists, a male shark could be the father The…

Leave a Reply