Crocodiles, sharks, snakes, tigers, lions are but a few of the animals that evoke a sense of fear in humans. Attacks by these animals are always widely splashed across the media, giving further merit to these fears. But are they actually more scared of us than we are of them, and do they perhaps have reason to be?
Wild animals are afraid of humans. Studies have shown that even apex predators change their eating patterns and habits when they perceive humans to be around. We are the only super predator that exists on this planet. Through conditioning, animals have come to instinctually fear our very existence.
Prey and predator alike perceive us as a threat, but that doesn’t mean that you are free to approach any animal you meet in the wild, believing yourself to be dominant.
Despite our destructive behavior, an unarmed human has almost no defense against an animal attack. Fear incites violence and animals will react aggressively if they feel threatened. Furthermore, there are situations when animals do hunt the mighty super predator human.
How Do We Know Wild Animals Are Afraid Of Humans?
If you have ever tried to befriend a squirrel in your garden or take a closer look at a bird only to have it flutter away in a panic as you draw near, you would have already experienced that animals have an innate fear of the human species.
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There have been two studies conducted to determine the fear level that animals feel towards humans and the impact this has on them. These studies were not done on prey animals, which one could argue have a natural defense mechanism to be scared and skittish, but rather on middle food web and even apex predators.
The study conducted in Wytham Woods on the badger found that when exposed to human noises, it took the badgers 189%-228% longer to leave their burrow versus when they were exposed to bear or dog sounds. More than half the badgers chose not to leave their burrow until the human noises stopped altogether.
In Santa Cruz, California, a similar study was directed. The scientists wished to determine the impact the perception of human presence would have on the predators in the area, namely the mountain lion, bobcat, opossum and skunk. The scientists broadcasted human voices in certain areas while they used the sound of tree frogs in other regions as a control.
The results were alarming in that the predators changed their habits when they perceived humans to be present. Mountain lions would leave their kill if they heard voices and deliberately avoided the areas where they believed there was human activity. The skunk and opossum foraged less, and the bobcat became solely nocturnal.
Both these studies prove that wild animals are so fearful of humans and perceive us as such a threat that they will actively try and avoid us and even change their feeding habits in order to be able to do so. Wild animals fear us more than any other predator.
Why Are Wild Animals Afraid Of Humans?
Some might suggest that our upright stance and forward-facing eyes have animals understanding that we are a predator and a threat, but it is more than just how we look that has them running for the hills.
Through centuries of hunting and destroying their habitat, their fear of us has become instinctual. We are the annihilators, super destroyers of the earth and its wildlife. We have taught animals that we are the most destructive and deadly species on the planet and, through this, conditioned them to fear us.
The human population kills nine times as many carnivores as they kill each other and four times more middle food web animals than large carnivores do. We are one of the few animals capable of distorting ecosystem functioning and eradicating species.
Justin Suraci, who headed up the Santa Cruz mountain lion experiment, explains that “for wildlife, fear amounts to the perception of predation risk.” Humans have proven themselves to be deadly, killing en masse like no other animal does, thus earning ourselves the super predator title. Our predation risk to other animals is off the chart and their fear reflects this.
Are All Wild Animals Afraid Of Humans?
In most scenarios, the mere presence of a human will have wild animals darting away. Even in some extreme situations where animals show aggression, if humans stand their ground and make noise, the result is often the animal showing one final act of defiance before they move off back into their natural habitat.
Although wild animals will choose to run away most of the time, rather than confronting us, this is not always the case. A threatened animal will attack to defend itself, and chances are you, with your lack of claws, blunt teeth and squishy body, will come off second best.
In the US, deer have come out on top as the most likely animal to kill you. Whether this is because they are the most deadly or is because their prey status lulls us into a false sense of security, the end result is these cuties are killers. The point being, that just because we have earned the super predator status does not mean we come out on top in a one-on-one with a wild animal. Without our weapons and machinery, we are no match for the power of the animal kingdom.
Wild animals will also attack if they are defending their young and it’s best to keep a safe distance. There’s a reason we have the saying “protect my cub like a mama bear,” and just as you’d never mess with a soccer mom, you should never mess with a mother animal.
Old, desperate animals are also sometimes guilty of attacking humans. At some point, their need to eat to survive overwhelms their fear of humans and they start to see people as an easy meal ticket. This will be especially true if they have successfully hunted a human, as they will quickly learn just what an easy target we can be.
Tigers, on the other hand, have been known to hunt humans for revenge. Remember the story of Mowgli and Shere Khan? It turns out that Rudyard Kipling had it right all along. Tigers are out for revenge. There are stories of tigers crossing hundreds of miles to attack and kill hunters who shot at them.
Are Animals In Game Reserves Afraid Of Humans?
In game reserves, wild animals have learned to trust humans to a certain degree or at the very least adapt to our presence. They go against their instincts, becoming used to the vehicles, clicking cameras and chattering voices. But if humans do anything out of this accepted format, for example, stepping out of your car, their instinctual fear kicks in and they are likely to scatter or, if feeling threatened, react to protect themselves.
We are very fortunate to have these parks that offer us the experience to observe wild animals in their natural habitats. However, we should always be respectful and mindful that they are still wild animals that act on instinct.
Check out my article, “Can Wild Animals Be Pets?”
What Are The Most Deadly Animals?
It’s likely when you consider dangerous animals, your mind jumps to the usual suspects; big cats, killing machine sharks and possibly even the African Hippopotamus. But the most prominent human killers out there are the smallest suspects.
The animals that are responsible for the most human deaths are insects. Mosquitos, Tsetse flies, assassin bugs and water snails account for over a million human deaths a year brought on by the diseases they carry.
On the other hand, sharks kill roughly four humans yearly, while we, in turn, kill over 100 million of them. Human beings are also responsible for killing almost half a million other humans a year. If you really want to know which animal is the most deadly, you merely need to look in the mirror.
Wild animals are more afraid of humans than any other danger they face, and they have every reason to be. At every turn, we have shown them how lethal we are. We kill them in the millions, we steal their homes and we hunt them for sport. We have been mistreating wildlife for centuries and their mistrust of us has become deeply instilled in their DNA.
However, we must never forget that without our weapons, we can’t compete with wild animals and trying to prove otherwise is a death sentence. We might be the mighty super predator, but ultimately we are no match for Mother Nature when she chooses to fight back.