A new study by Western researchers has shown that smaller carnivores perceive humans to be far more frightening than larger animals like bears and wolves. Liana Zanette and Michael Clinchy from Western’s Faculty of Science worked in collaboration with British biologist David Macdonald from University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and others. In the course of their research, they confirmed that smaller carnivores have learned to fear humans as a ‘super predator’ far more than their traditional enemies.
Zanette observes that the fear large carnivores inspire can shape ecosystems, meaning this learned fear of humans have important implications for conservation, wildlife management and public policy. Large carnivores help maintain healthy ecosystems by frightening prey and preventing their smaller counterparts eating everything in sight. Thus, the shrinking of this ‘landscape of fear’ adds to conservation concerns about the loss of large carnivores.
The team conducted the study on European badgers in Wytham Woods, just outside of Oxford. They played badgers the sounds of bears, wolves, dogs and humans in their natural habitat and filmed their responses using hidden cameras and speakers. Hearing the bears and dogs had some effect but simply hearing the sounds of humans speaking in conversation prevented most badgers from feeding entirely and dramatically reduced the feeding times of the few others who did emerge.