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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Brief History of Human-Predator Conflicts and Potent Lessons

  • Author(s): Geist, Valerius
  • et al.

From the outset, humans evolved with severe conflict with wildlife, but which they mastered with great ingenuity. We are the only primate that can exist on the ground with large predators, day and night, and are not dependent on climbing trees or cliffs for security. Consequently, we regressed in climbing adaptations and body strength. Without that mastery over predators, there would have been no human evolution. This mastery led to a transfer of resources from predators and competitors to our self, followed very early by dispersal out of Africa into Europa and Asia. The archaeological record keeps hinting at predator-free conditions. At the end of the last glaciation, mega-faunal extinctions generated new challenges for humans, as the virtual absence of mega-herbivores profoundly changed the ecosystems, as fires replaced herbivores in consuming vegetation. Also, wolves escaped extinction, but not their enemies and competitors. Consequently, since the natural limitations on their numbers had been diminished, wolves had to be controlled, and native people rose to the task. Only in societies with disarmed citizens were wolves a menace, and legislation that frees wolves from human control eventually recreates that very menace. North America’s Pleistocene native wildlife survived under extremes in predation, such as was not experienced in Eurasia or Africa. Consequently, our native wildlife species, being quick and accurate learners, readily habituate and are very good at taking advantage of us. Problem wildlife may be created by humans’ irrational wishes which conflict with the biology of a species. This is well illustrated by current efforts at wolf conservation here and in Europe, where the unintended consequence is the assured destruction of the wolf as a species.

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