Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My

Frica is a continent in which many humans still live with the realiza tion that predation may be a part of daily life. Probably the most famous modern man-eaters in Africa were the legendary Tsavo lions held responsible for the deaths of over a hundred railroad workers during a nine-month period in 1896.1 These may also be the only individual wild animals to be featured in a statement to the British Parliament. The prime minister of Great Britain in 1896, the Marquis of Salisbury, was called to...

Choose Your Weapon

Scimitars, sabers, daggers, dirks which will it be Long, curved, sharp teeth, the fossil cats had all those weapons handily attached to their top jaws. An incredible array of cats and pre-cats roamed the earth from 10 million years until relatively recently. One wonders how any primate much less our smallish bipedal hominid survived the predation of so many large-bodied, large-toothed felines. The figure on p. 65 diagrams A reconstruction of the skull of Megantereon, a fossil saber-toothed cat...

Chimpanzee Aggression

Just how common is it for chimpanzees to kill other chimpanzees This is where the real controversy may lie. During the first 14 years of study at Gombe National Park in Tanzania (1960-1974), chimpanzees were described as a peaceful, unaggressive species. In fact, during a year of concentrated study, Jane Goodall observed 284 agonistic (aggressive) encounters. Of these, 66 were due to competition for introduced (that is, human-provided) bananas, and only 34 could be classified as attacks...

Leaders of the Pack

During our study of predation on non-human primates, we considered the wild dogs and hyenas together due to similarities in their ecological niches and social behavior (although, taxonomically speaking, hyenas are more closely related to the cat family than to dogs). Both dogs and hyenas have completely terrestrial lifestyles, and most of them employ cooperative (pack) hunting strategies, allowing for the killing of very large prey. The efficiency of cooperative hunting by spotted hyenas and...

An Alfred Hitchcock Moment

The office of a colleague, paleontologist Tab Rasmussen at Washington University in St. Louis, houses an awesome, frightening treasure. It's the talon of an extinct raptor that once lived in Madagascar. The raptor has no common name. Like many fossil species, it is known only by its scientific name, Stephanoaetus mahery. Recently, we had the opportunity to examine this talon. It came from a large eagle that became extinct 1,500 2,000 years ago. The talon was from the front of the raptor foot....

Debunking Man the Hunter

Y are we the way we are What makes us think and act the way re do Birds fly and snakes slither because they must. What are we impelled to do Well, humans walk upright, they verbalize language, and they manipulate their environment to suit their needs. But did we start out with those legacies or did they come slowly over time Yes, most birds fly, but the ancestors of birds were probably terrestrial dinosaurs. Snakes slither, but the skeletal remnants of hind legs are found in primitive snakes....

We Werent Just Waiting Around to Be Eaten

Just how easy was it for predators to serve up hominid du jour The fossil history tells us little, if anything, about behavior and virtually nothing specific about defensive behavior against predators. We may find the fossilized remains of the losers in a predator prey encounter, but we do not have enough fossils to draw any conclusions about the predation rate on hominids or their successful strategies to outwit predators. Obviously if we had been passive victims we would not have survived as...

The Record of Giant Raptors

The talon from S. mahery was found in Madagascar. So far, no fossils of great antiquity have been found on that island, so it is more accurate to designate this eagle as a subfossil since it is only a few thousand years old. In that period 1,500 2,000 years ago there was a varied, now-extinct mega-fauna (including pygmy hippos, giant elephant birds, and large lemurs) on the island of Madagascar. The arrival of humans at this point began a wave of extinctions at least 17 species of lemurs...

Featherweights and Talon Tips

We knew from our data collection and quantitative analysis of predation on non-human primates that eagles and hawks are the major and most competent predators on primates worldwide.3 Our research found that 46 of published eyewitness accounts of primate predation relate to raptor kills. And a good portion of these primate kills were the work of crowned hawk-eagles. In what seems, from our study at least, to be a fairly typical attack by a crowned hawk-eagle, the bird initially launched itself...

Man the Hunted

Throughout this book we have posed a question Were our early ancestors hunters or the hunted How do we finally and definitively answer such a question There have been copious attempts to reconstruct the behavior and ecology of our earliest ancestors, but the most common theory, and the one that is widely accepted today, is the Man the Hunter hypothesis. Cultural anthropologist Laura Klein expresses the current situation adeptly While anthropologists argue in scientific meetings and journals,...

Predation Risk versus Predation Rate

We like a pithy statement from tropical ecologist John Terborgh who summed up predation rather concisely Successful predation is a rare event at most it can occur only once in the lifetime of a prey.37 Whatever the overall impact of successful predation may be to the species or population, it does not modify the behavioral strategies of an individual primate living at constant risk from successful predation.38 Behavior is predicated on predation risk not predation rate because animals react to...

Wolves at the Door

European wolves prey on humans, especially in the summer when females are on the lookout for extra food to feed their cubs.2 We realize this is a bold statement that deserves to be supported with facts. A patient reading of the next few pages will provide the rationale for our contention that humans, especially small humans, might have been one of the most available and appropriate prey for wolves in the past. But to get there from here we need to tell a fascinating story. Hans Kruuk, the...

Perfect Primate Predators

None of the discussion above obviates the fact that primates are a frequent prey item for many species of wild cats. The frequency in which primates occur in leopard diets ranges as high as 80 . 36 And, as we've said before, if we want to project what might have happened to our early ancestors, we can look at modern non-human primates that end up as prey for the big cats. Normally opportunistic hunters, the availability of prey or total prey numbers are the important criteria for food selection...

The Taung Child Tells Its Tale

It's time to leave theoretical discussions and talk about the specifics of raptor predation on ancestral hominids. The first evidence that eagles preyed on the human line appears, coincidentally, as part of the same fossil evidence that humans evolved in Africa. The very same child's fossilized skull and brain that Raymond Dart carefully removed from its mineralized crust in 1924 holds the clues to raptor predation on hominids. After much scientific debate and investigation during the past...

No Laughing Matter

Hyenas are scorned by indigenous cultures wherever they occur, often representing despicable characters in myth and folklore. Yet, they aren't weak, silly, or base creatures and, just like wolves, hyenas have the strength and predatory instinct to attack people. After the work of field researchers in the 1970s and 1980s notably Hans Kruuk, who wrote a seminal monograph entitled The Spotted Hyena, and Hugo van Lawick and Jane Goodall's Innocent Killers , the old myths of cowardly, skulking...

Whos Eating Whom

Swinging Tamarind Monkey

One thing's for certain there's nothing in a Stephen King novel that will beat the gruesomeness out there in the archives of the print media. It was quickly apparent as we gathered material for this book that entire volumes could be filled with gory exploits of man-eaters garnered from newspapers and magazines around the world. These bloody events are commonly given high profile in newspapers, and they often make the front page in a city that is thousands of miles from the predation itself. For...

African Crowned Eagle

Crowned Eagle

There aren't many birds of prey, either in far distant times or right now, that reach a size large enough to attack and kill a hominid. There aren't many, but there are a few. Several years ago we interviewed a U.S.-government researcher about his stint in the forests of Uganda. One of his objectives was a study of a very unique raptor, the crowned hawk-eagle. This research brought him in contact with local people who told stories of harrowing encounters with the great forest eagle. There was...

My What Big Teeth You Have

Snakes and lizards are not the only reptilian predators the human lineage has faced. The large saltwater and freshwater crocodiles have garnered a well-deserved reputation for dining on primates of many species in general, and hominids in particular. To say that a headline in the 24 March 1993 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch caught our attention does not fully convey the impact of seeing Woman Loses Arm to African Crocodile in 1-inch-high type. We were already deep into our research on...

Making a Last Stand Counterattack and Chutzpah

If all else fails, chutzpah is the primate last-ditch effort. Under certain circumstances early hominids could ably defend themselves and probably used unaltered rocks and sticks as weapons. When conditions were in favor of early humans, they were as likely to succeed as are modern baboons and chimpanzees in facing down a predator. Tim White, who has been discovering fossil hominids for 30 years, mused one day while he was examining the fossil Lucy and her relatives, Although I'm bigger than a...

Just Another Item on the Menu

Leopard With Prey Hominid

On the second day of January 2001 something occurred that has happened uncountable times before . . . something that has been happening, in fact, for millions of years . . . something that has influenced the way we humans act and the way we evolved. A woman was cross-country skiing along a popular lake trail near her home in Alberta, Canada. Rangers say a 132-pound cougar lay hidden under an evergreen. It watched her pass, then stealthily zigzagged behind her for nearly 150 feet. The woman was...

The Serpentine Route

To say that primates in general including humans are fearful of snakes is a generalization that just might be provable through statistical analysis. Avoidance of snakes is a well-documented behavior in nonhuman primates, although, in seemingly perverse behavior, primates sometimes approach snakes out of sheer curiosity.4 Innate avoidance of snakes by primates would presuppose some evolutionary relationship with snakes, either as predators or as dangerous co-inhabitants of tropical and temperate...

Gentle Savage or Bloodthirsty Brute

Et's take stock of what we can say about early humans They were tasty items for cats, dogs, bears, hyenas, raptors, and reptiles. They were bipedal. They communicated by vocalizations. They lived in groups. Their brains got larger over millions of years although this was not a steady process there were long periods of stasis through much of the early Pleistocene epoch . But how did they act Would we recognize features of ourselves if we got to know them What was your average smallish bipedal...

Breathing Fire The Komodo Dragon

Sri Lankan Reptiles

We have to state at the beginning that neither one of us has ever had the pleasure of personally meeting a wild Komodo dragon, the largest of the monitor lizard family and feared denizen of several small Indonesian islands. But, being hominids, we succumb to the fear they may have generated within the primate brain for millions of years. For worst nightmares there is really nothing comparable to the thought of a gray, slobbery, 9-inch-long forked tongue picking up your scent and tracking you to...

Chimpanzee and Human Males as Demonic Killers

Bonobo Eating Meat

One of the new claims to the importance of killing and the biological basis of morality is that of Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson in their book, Demonic Males Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. Their argument rests on the fact that 20 25 years ago we thought human aggression was unique because research on the great apes had revealed that those species were basically unaggressive, gentle creatures. Although early theorists proposed that hunting, killing, and extreme aggressive behavior...