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  #1  
Old 03-23-2004, 10:03 PM
Catalyst Catalyst is offline
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Why do animals fear humans?

Sure, if I were a wild animal, I'd keep my distance, but I know about guns and pepper spray and sadistic young males. What motivates wild animals to keep their distance from us? The only thing I can think of is that, as bipeds, we're relatively tall, which might make us seem imposing. Or is it just a matter of being unfamiliar with humans and what they might be able to do?
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  #2  
Old 03-23-2004, 10:11 PM
MonkeyMensch MonkeyMensch is offline
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I think you hit the nail on the head there with that big thing.

Most of the animals you'll encounter in the country are going to be smaller than you. It's a back-country right-of-way system: "Oh, you out-weigh me. I guess you have the right-of-way."

It's mostly you're big, you take heavy steps, and you smell funny.

Kinf of like me at the local pub...
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Old 03-23-2004, 10:45 PM
clairobscur clairobscur is online now
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I read someone stating that animals fear humans because they're bipedal, hence don't belong to any recognized category ("things I can eat" and "things which can eat me", mostly), hence that we would induce fear in animals due to our "unknown" status. I wouldn't know if it's true.
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  #4  
Old 03-23-2004, 11:33 PM
wevets wevets is offline
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The reasons animals fear humans tends to vary a great deal from animal to animal and even within animal species (or individual) depending on context.

For example, harbor seals fear both human height and noisiness on land, but in the water, harbor seals do not show fear of humans to the point of even approaching divers and nipping on their fins (I've heard of seals nibbling on regulator hoses too, but luckily have never experienced the phenomenon). Human boats, however, can trigger a fear response in harbor seals.

On the other hand, gray whales tend to show little fear of humans at all. Even gray whales which have had negative encounters with humans tend to ignore or even approach humans in boats. In many places in Baja California, you can pet gray whales and approach them easily (please note that doing so in the United States or Canada is illegal, and that doing so anywhere is probably inadvisable from the standpoint of keeping wild animals safe from potential harm by other humans who don't just want to pet them). In Oregon, off Newport, there's a resident gray whale called Scarback who had an encounter with an explosive harpoon that left a 2 m gouge out of her back. She regularly approaches boats.

Where I live, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, bobcats show little to no fear of humans in groups of 3 or less. When confronted by groups of more than 3, they hide. In many other places, bobcats show fear of even single humans.
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  #5  
Old 03-24-2004, 12:21 AM
Blake Blake is offline
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First off , itís not size. You can easily prove this by having a bull walk past a small animal. A bull is bigger than the largest human, and yet no animals bother to run away. They just get out of the way so they donít get trod on.

Nor is it unfamiliarity. In fact it seems to be precisely the opposite. All the fear of humans seems to be either learned or an inherited response. There are numerous accounts of people arriving on uninhabited islands and finding the animals quite unafraid of humans. And these were not species that were without any predators, just species without mammalian predators. Consider this account from Darwin describing a scene on the Galapagos Islands.

Quote:
In Charles Island, which had then been colonised about 6 years, I saw a boy sitting by a well with a switch in his hand, with which he killed the doves and finches as they came to drink. He had already procured a little heap of them for his dinner; and he said that he had constantly been in the habit of waiting by this well for the same purpose.
Darwinís work on the Beagle journey has numerous mentions of similar instances where birds would perch trustingly close to humans. And these included birds that had natural predators.

Numerous other authors have noted the same is true of mammals. Of particular relevance here is a quote from Matthew Flinders describing the situation on Kangaroo Island off the southern coast of Australia where the crew of his boat discovered numerous kangaroos and seals sunning themslves on the beaches.
Quote:
Never perhaps had the dominion possessed here by the kanguroo been invaded before this time. The seal shared with it upon the shores. but they seemed to dwell amicably together. It not unfrequently happened, that the report of a gun fired at a kanguroo near the beach, brought out two or three bellowing seals from under bushes considerably further from the water side. The seal, indeed, seemed to be much the most discerning animal of the two; for its actions bespoke a knowledge of our not being kanguroos, whereas the kanguroo not unfrequently appeared to consider us to be seals.
What these descriptions show is that without human predators most animals will show no reaction to humans at all, even when they kill other members of the same species. The kangaroo Island account is particularly pertinent because it shows that animals have no particular problem with bipedal creatures other than humans but can still recognise humans as a special category.

So basically animals fear humans because they have either learned to fear humans or evolved to respond to humans as a threat. It isnít related to any particular human feature nor to unfamiliarity. Itís just that animals have you marked as a human, and have humans marked as dangerous.
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Old 03-24-2004, 12:33 AM
Ranchoth Ranchoth is offline
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Yes, but would Bobcats fear Kangaroos?

Croc vs. Shark my ass...this is the matchup of the century!
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  #7  
Old 03-24-2004, 04:54 AM
Silver Serpentine Silver Serpentine is offline
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Theory:

Humans come bouncing into Animal A's habitat. Animal A has never seen humans before.

Now, there are two categories of Animal A. 1 and 2.

1 isn't afraid of humans. 2 is.

Humans hunt Animal A, but always end up killing Group 1 because they're easier to catch.

Eventually, the genetic unafraidness gets all eaten up by humans. Thus, all we're left with is Group 2.

Now, every Animal A is in Group 2, so every Animal A is afraid of humans.

Can anyone back me up on this?
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  #8  
Old 03-24-2004, 05:01 AM
najniran najniran is offline
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Oh, I'd pay money to see a kangaroo take on a bobcat. Well...I'd maybe even settle for a slightly agitated housecat against a somewhat vexed koala. Yes...yes indeed.
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  #9  
Old 03-24-2004, 05:27 AM
Blake Blake is offline
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Silver serpentine that seems like a plausible mechanism in some cases. We know that it isnít true in all cases because so many animals are so easily tames. Animals in national parks etc worldwide will rapidly come to a stage where they will let humans touch them and hand feed them, often within only one or two generations. Clearly the fear of humans is largely a learned response in these animals, and probably learned from watching the reactions of parents more than from personal experience. Once the parents stop treating humans as predators the young become more trusting.

Probably there is a combination of the two factors though, with naÔve species being rapidly selected towards skittish individuals by the method you describe. But skittish doesnít equal fearful. It just means they are likely to learn avoidance faster from watching others get killed.


15kg bobcat vs 50kg kangaroo? Interesting but somewhat one sided.

3kg housecats vs 6kg koala? More interesting but still one sided. Cats and koalas share the same habitat and I have never heard of one being attacked by a cat. Plenty of dog attacks but never a cat. A koala is nowhere near as soft and cuddly as it looks. They are built like tanks. Cats are smarter than that.
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  #10  
Old 03-24-2004, 06:01 AM
Laughing Lagomorph Laughing Lagomorph is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wevets
...
Where I live, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, bobcats show little to no fear of humans in groups of 3 or less. When confronted by groups of more than 3, they hide. In many other places, bobcats show fear of even single humans.
That's amazing. We have bobcats around here but they are notoriously shy. Fish and Wildlife Officers can go their whole careers without seeing one alive, but they apparently aren't that uncommon. They are just really good at staying out of sight when they want to.
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  #11  
Old 03-24-2004, 10:02 AM
Bippy the Beardless Bippy the Beardless is offline
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Just a wag, but would the human eye positioning (front of head facing forward) be an indication to other animals that humans are a predator species?
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  #12  
Old 03-24-2004, 10:39 AM
Shalmanese Shalmanese is offline
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Well, if you agree with the theory that the mass-extinctions of nearly all large animal species in Australia and the Americas co-incided with human habitation, it would appear that most animals didn't fear man when they first arrived since they had never seen them before. This lack of fear made them easy game which decimated entire species within geological eye-blinks.
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  #13  
Old 03-24-2004, 12:12 PM
kniz kniz is offline
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Two recent TV shows have covered subjects that apply to this question.
The first had to do with a scientist that spent over a year traveling thru jungle in eastern Africa that had never been visited by humans. The show was concerning his returning to investigate some chimps in this area that were totally unafraid of humans. There were many differences between these chimps and other chimps that have been previously studied.

The second was a husband and wife that have been studying grizzlies in Siberia (the remote peninsula up by the Bering Sea). During early visits the bears were totally unafraid of them. They found three baby bears, whose mother had died, which they took home to raise and then release. When they returned things had changed and the grizzlies would run from them (I can still see one running at full speed and looking back over his shoulder). They released the cubs, who seemed to immediately take to their new environment. The Russian authorities were notified about the bear's new behavorior. An investigation revealed that 70 or 90 (I forget which) bears had been killed. Their gall-badders had been removed to be sold to asians who believe there is some sexual benefits from them.

These cases indicate to me that animals are not naturally fearful of humans. The bear story also shows how quickly animals can learn to fear humans.
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Old 03-24-2004, 01:39 PM
The Great Sun Jester The Great Sun Jester is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kniz
The second was a husband and wife that have been studying grizzlies in Siberia
Loved that documentary! My kids are fascinated with not getting eaten by bears, and the wisdom up until this show was that you want to appear as "un-bearlike" as possible in order to reduce the potential for conflict. So we were all expecting the husband to get eaten at the end when he approached the sow with his little "play with me" gesture. I still wonder what would have happened had she taken him up on that!

Sorry....

I was thinking it was the carnivore eyes as well, but that wouldn't explain why some predator species like wolves & mountain lions flee our arrival. Do African lions typically run away from or toward humans?
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  #15  
Old 03-24-2004, 02:24 PM
TheLoadedDog TheLoadedDog is offline
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It is possibly the animal version of an unlocked Rollys Royce left overnight in a rough neighbourhood not being stolen - "Woah. Whoever owns that must be one heavy mutha!" ie, we show no fear, and make lots of noise. Even when we're just walking along a hiking trail, we're making more noise than we realise because we are heavy and we aren't naturally being cautious like prey animals do. WE make no attempt to hide. Also, we look and smell odd. Plastics, perfumes, tobacco, and processed food and alcohol in our body smell. We walk along with purpose, often wearing bright colours, and often talking.

I think we just weird the animals out, and they take no chances with us.

The following is probably going to have Dopers pointing, laughing, and saying "haha! Urban myth!" with a link to Snopes, but here goes anyway...

A friend of a friend of a relative.. (yeesh) about forty years ago, apparently won a bet with a friend of his who owned a notoriously vicious and large dog. The bet was that the guy couldn't get from the front gate to the door of the dog owner's house without being attacked. Nobody else had ever managed it. The guy won the bet by stripping completely naked, dropping onto his hands and knees, and crawling the distance to the door of the house. As he crawled, he emitted this blood-curdling continuous howl that sounded like an emergency vehicle's siren. The dog was confused and scared, thinking doggie "WTF?" thoughts, and backed right off. This dog was used to nervous bipedal humans, and considered them no threat. I guess it goes both ways.
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  #16  
Old 03-24-2004, 05:41 PM
wevets wevets is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Laughing Lagomorph
That's amazing. We have bobcats around here but they are notoriously shy. Fish and Wildlife Officers can go their whole careers without seeing one alive, but they apparently aren't that uncommon. They are just really good at staying out of sight when they want to.

Yeah, it's pretty bizarre. The bobcats picked up really quickly that they were safe in the park and now, about 30 years after it became a park, I've come to within 10 ft of totally unconcerned bobcats and a reliable friend has told me that a bobcat passed him on a trail that's no more than 5 ft wide.
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Old 03-24-2004, 05:46 PM
Eats_Crayons Eats_Crayons is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kniz
These cases indicate to me that animals are not naturally fearful of humans. The bear story also shows how quickly animals can learn to fear humans.
Anedcdotal answer:

Exploring a swamp, I had three baby raccoons rush toward me with happy chirps of greetings. Curious as all hell, they were coming to say "hello" until mommy intervened. Once mommy intervened, they became nervous and fearful, scurrying back up the tree and watching me with suspicion. Although I offered one a carrot stick and Momcoon had to hold the baby's tail to keep it from checking out this wonderful, new-smelling vegetable.

Likewise, I captured two pregnant feral cats, to prevent a feral cat population explosion. Babies were born into captivity. One Momcat remained pretty nasty. Her kittens were friendly and socialized to accept human contact while Momcat sulked from under the bed... everything looked promising.

But one day, the foster-human walked into the room. Momcat hissed. All babies, as if on cue, also hissed at the human. Same thing the next day. Human walked into room, cue kittens: "Psst!" They were learning from Momma!

(And 5 week old kittens have THE most pathetic hiss ever heard. Sounds like a sneeze.)

The kittens were by then weaned, and so were isolated from Momcat. They promptly forgot about their "hiss at the human" training and were loveable pets.

So quite a bit of the "humans are evil" seems to be a learned response from Momma.




Oh, and Momcat, named "Earnie," was spayed, re-released into the junkyard, and after a cold winter (I still fed her daily and checked in on her), she decided that, since humans gave you food and pet you, they weren't really all that bad after all! With her radical change in attitude, she was accepted into a foster program for "difficult cats" and was happily adopted into a loving home.
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Old 03-24-2004, 05:59 PM
Eats_Crayons Eats_Crayons is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheLoadedDog
A friend of a friend of a relative.. (yeesh) about forty years ago, apparently won a bet with a friend of his who owned a notoriously vicious and large dog. The bet was that the guy couldn't get from the front gate to the door of the dog owner's house without being attacked. Nobody else had ever managed it. The guy won the bet by stripping completely naked, dropping onto his hands and knees, and crawling the distance to the door of the house. As he crawled, he emitted this blood-curdling continuous howl that sounded like an emergency vehicle's siren. The dog was confused and scared, thinking doggie "WTF?" thoughts, and backed right off. This dog was used to nervous bipedal humans, and considered them no threat. I guess it goes both ways.
I worked in a daycare once. We had a 4 month old baby for a day who needed "emergency daycare" (parents had some emergency they needed to attend to -- this wee one would normally be at home.) As soon as mommy left the kid started wailing, howling, and crying.

Nothing we did would appease the demon-baby from hell! Not a bottle, not burping , not singing, not rocking... nothing! We tried every "comfort the baby" tactic we could think of.

After four hours of straight howling, my co-worker tried to new tact. She looked at the monster baby and went: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAH!" at the top of her lungs. We're talking Jamie Lee Curtis in the original Hallowe'en movie scream!

Baby made a surprised face, like "Gee, I've never seen anyone do that before" and quieted right down.

Never underestimate the effect of the unexpected. Works charms.
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Old 03-24-2004, 07:57 PM
Lobelia Overhill Lobelia Overhill is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eats_Crayons
Likewise, I captured two pregnant feral cats ... Human walked into room, cue kittens: "Psst!" They were learning from Momma!

(And 5 week old kittens have THE most pathetic hiss ever heard. Sounds like a sneeze.)

T'is true about kittens hissing My cousin had a few semi feral cats at her place, and there were kittens that would hiss if you'd the cheek to be looking at them, I used to hiss back at them - oh the looks on their little faces

I think wild animals learn to fear humans after coming into contact with the not so nice types. Apparently the "artificial" smells we give off [and let's face it Darwin probably didn't wear aftershave] sets of a flight reaction
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Old 03-24-2004, 09:51 PM
Blake Blake is offline
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Loaded Dog and Bippy the Beardless, what you are proposing does not explain the facts presented. If animals fear humans because we have predatorís eyes or because we make lots of noise then the birds in the Galapagos or the kangaroos on Kangaroo Island would also have realised we were predators. And yet we have descriptions of people killing these animals in large numbers with no reaction at all.

There is another description of another early arrival on Kangaroo Island killing hundreds of roos with only one hunting dog. Kangaroos have been hunted by dog-like predators for millions of years, and yet that population showed no inclination to view a dog as a threat. There can be little doubt that hunting dogs look, smell and move like predators.

And these are not isolated incidents. Similar stories come form Mauritius, Islands off New Zealand, Reunion and even isolated parts of inhabited continents.

Clearly there is no natural instinct in animals to flee humans, however weird we may look or move and no matter where our eyes are. All the evidence shows that animals need to learn to fear predators, including humans. There is no specific predator marker at work here. Animals just learn to identify predators as the encounter them.
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  #21  
Old 03-25-2004, 01:17 AM
DrDeth DrDeth is online now
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We smell like carnivores (well, most of us do) since we eat meat. Thus, mammals with a good sense of smell, and who are herbivores (prey)* stay away. Also, if you look at an animal and move towards it, it show interest- most animals show interest when they want to eat you.

* This is why I think some vegans have been attacked by Mtn. Lions.
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