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They are faster and stronger than us, but they rarely attack: why are wild animals afraid of people

“They fear you more than you fear them” is an expression often used to convince travelers that even large predators such as bears and cougars are not a big threat to humans. People are slower and weaker than these animals, so what prevents them from attacking every person they meet, the publication found out Live Science.

Photo: Shutterstock

There are several probable reasons why they don't attack more often. According to John Hawkes, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, looking at our physiology, humans evolved and became bipedal: they went from moving with all four limbs to rectilinear walking on longer legs.

“There is a level of danger that comes from bipedalism,” Hawkes said. “And when we look at other primates - for example, chimpanzees, gorillas - they stand on two legs as an expression of threat. The increase in appearance is a threat, and it is really an easy way to tell predators that you - may be a problem. "

Bipedal people may appear larger and therefore more dangerous to other species, but bipedalism also has disadvantages. According to Hawkes, people move more slowly on two legs than on four, which means that humans have given up any opportunity to overtake any four-legged creature.

"It looks like a bluff," Hawkes said. - Predators see a straight stance and assume that people are stronger than they really are. However, even if they found out about our bluff, the predators have other reasons to leave us alone. "

On the subject: Predatory animals in the USA: how to survive upon meeting

Larger primates like humans and chimpanzees live in groups and have adopted an aggressive threat defense strategy that usually works against predators, Hawkes said. Thus, social life helps us stay safe, along with the benefits of being bipedal.

As human technology advanced, we developed an arsenal of modern weapons such as bows and rifles that could be used from a distance. With these weapons, people became so deadly that they began to fight predators.

Another reason why humans are rarely attacked by large wild animals is that their numbers have declined.

“We've been trying for a very long time to clear the landscape we use of large predators,” said Justin Suraci, a leading public ecology and biology scientist at Conservation Science Partners, a nonprofit conservation science organization based in California.

Surachi noted that large predators and their habitats suffered heavy losses in the United States prior to and in the 20th century, prior to the 1973 Endangered Species Act. For example, humans hunted, trapped and hunted wolves to near extinction, and cougars were wiped out throughout eastern North America, with the exception of a small population in Florida, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Predators living in other densely populated areas have faced similar problems. According to Surachi, the animals that escaped the human threat are probably tired of our species. “For very logical reasons, some of these larger predators have a healthy fear of humans in the same way that any prey would fear their predators,” Surachi said.

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In a 2019 study published in the journal Ecology Letters, Surachi and colleagues played back recordings of human voices through remote speakers in California's Santa Cruz Mountains. The study found that the sound of human conversation was enough to scare off cougars and several smaller predators such as lynxes.

The notes were an imitation of a friendly conversation and consisted mainly of Surachi and his friends reading poetry and excerpts from books. The effect was so strong that it had an effect similar to the removal of predators from the ecosystem as a whole, with a decrease in the activity of predators, allowing small, potential prey, such as mice, to obtain more food than usual.

Surachi believes that this predator fear of humans can also have a positive side: it can help prevent conflict between humans and wildlife. Large predators need a lot of space, and in a world dominated by humans, they should be able to live side by side with humans without conflict.

“The fear of humans that many of these predators exhibit is really positive,” Surachi said. "This gives us the opportunity to potentially share space with these animals - to go hiking in places where cougars, bears and wolves exist, without experiencing any negative impacts."

In other words, a “healthy fear” of wild predators of humans can help us coexist “if we are aware of their presence,” Surachi said. Indeed, it is important to be smart when traveling through regions that are home to large predators. For example, in a bear region, people should walk in groups and occasionally shout “Hello, bear” to give the animals time to leave the area before they meet.

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