Human ‘super-predator’ more terrifying than bears, wolves

Toronto, July 26 (IANS) Smaller carnivores like European badgers actually perceive humans as far more frightening than large carnivores, revealed a study.

Humans now kill smaller carnivores at much higher rates than large carnivores and the results indicate that smaller carnivores have learnt to fear the human ‘super-predator’ far more than they fear their traditional enemies, suggested the study published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

The researchers demonstrated that smaller carnivores like badgers, foxes and raccoons that may appear to be habituated to humans because they live among us, are actually experiencing elevated levels of fear.

They conducted the study on Europeans badgers in Wytham Woods — an ancient semi-natural woodland owned by the University of Oxford, to compare their relative fearfulness.

The researchers played badgers the sounds of bears, wolves, dogs and humans in their natural habitat and filmed their responses, using hidden automated speakers and cameras.

While hearing bears and dogs had some effect on badgers, simply hearing the sound of people speaking, in conversation, or reading passages from books, prevented most of them from feeding entirely.

“The results indicate that the fear of humans, being greater, likely has even greater impacts on the environment, meaning humans may be distorting ecosystem processes even more than previously imagined,” said Liana Zanette, Researcher, University of Western Ontario.

By frightening their prey, large carnivores help maintain healthy ecosystems by preventing smaller carnivores from eating everything in their sight and the loss of this ‘landscape of fear’ adds to conservation concerns regarding the worldwide loss of large carnivores.

The fear of humans has been proposed to act as a substitute, but the study demonstrates that the fear of humans is qualitatively different and cannot be expected to fulfil the same ecosystem function.

–IANS

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