Humans as Prey

Humans, by and large, are the ultimate apex predator as we have mostly removed ourselves from the food chain and are generally only preyed upon when our habitats overlap with that of other super predators and the people there have limited means of protection. Even then, the animals attacking and eating us only seem to do so in rare cases where we’ve gone where we really shouldn’t or they’re particularly hungry and I am wondering if, at any point, were humans an actual prey species instead of the ocassional exotic treat for a tiger, lion, or crocodile and, if so, when and of what species?

Hollywood has, of course, taught us that dinosaurs used to hunt down humans.

Except for that, don’t polar bears track humans?

We’ve discussed this at work several times and the consensus among the wildlife biologists is (restricting ourselves to just the contiguous US) black bears and grizzlies can often be frightened off, and/or you can play dead if attacked and your survival rate is quite high.

On the other hand, a healthy well fed mountain lion will stalk humans, kill them and attempt to eat them because it can.

Siam Sam

Sounds like a film released by Creationist Studios. :smiley:

I believe Polar Bears and tigers will also hunt humans.

Who cares if polar bears track humans? Humans can kill polar bears fairly easily (sometimes too easy). We are no longer their “prey.” The OP says this.
I would say human ancestors remained prey to crocodiles as long as they relied on direct river contact for water needs.

Don’t forget that humans hunt humans

I thought tigers only hunted humans once they’d tasted one? Whereas polar bears will head out for one at first whiff no matter what. Is that correct?

As I’ve posted elsewhere, I freely admit I’ll be a dead man then in the event of a bear attack, because there ain’t no way I am going to lie down and play dead. It just ain’t gonna happen.

Ideally, I will be with someone else in the event of a bear attack. In that case, I woouldn’t need to run faster than the bear; I would only need to run faster than the other person.

Yea, try killing them in the traditional way. A spear. Sure, we can take them down nowadays with a rifle from a distance lone. But I bet even the Innuit never went on a bear hunt alone 100 years ago.

Which leads me to natural law and perhaps the true secret of man as a predator. We have the power af communication and its direct ascendency, organization. Man, by himself, lone, against nature doesn’t fare well against any other true carnivorous predator. Pit a man unarmed against a hungry feline, Lupus, or pachedyrm and the man is prey. We are weak as a individuals but deadly as contiguous groups and tool (weapon) makers…and that’s the problem- Tribes. We got ant mind.

Pachyderms, last I checked, were herbivores. They might kill you if you aggravate them or just get in their way, but they ain’t going to eat you.

It’s two sentences. And lest you stand between a hungry elephant and his dinner.

That is correct. Elephants do not eat meat.

I did see footage, though, of a stupid Thai reporter who got too close to a wild herd during a news report, and he got trampled flat. Amazingly, he lived.

These are ones that want to eat you, not just kill you.

Sharks seem to regularly nibble on people.

In the context of the third world humans can indeed be prey.

Actually, that’s much more likely to get you killed, as running will trigger the bear’s prey instincts. Most bear charges are bluffs; running is pretty much the worst thing you can do.

What about mosquitos? And fleas?

Which is why I freely acknowledge I will probably die, because there is no way I will stand still. But then like I said, I only have to run faster than the other guy, not the bear. :smiley:

The problem in dealing with bears is they interact with humans in a few different primary ways, and based on what their intentions are, an act which may save your life in one situation will most assuredly get you killed in another situation.

I have a friend who is an expert on black bears, so that is what I know more about. He basically has told me black bears interact with humans in a few different, significant ways. To understand bears it’s important to understand the specific bear/human interaction types and the mannerisms of bears in general.


The first type of interaction is simply one of curiosity. Black bears are shy, but paradoxically they can be curious, too. Sometimes they will start approaching you to see “what’s up” they probably won’t get too close, but for people totally unfamiliar with bears this may still seem close enough to be “scary.” If you don’t like the attention, scream angrily and wave your hands. This will most certainly drive off a curious bear, black bears don’t like trouble.


The second type of interaction is one in which a hungry black bear is looking for food. This is often the situation campers who have improperly stored food run into. Black bears are food aggressive, once they get into your food it is very unwise to try to physically engage them. Your best bet is, again, to scream angrily, wave your hands, make noise, et cetera. Most of the time, this causes the black bear to leave–even though they are food aggressive, they don’t particularly like trouble from humans and if you make enough of a fuss they’ll lumber off into the woods.

Aggressive Predation

The third type of interaction is one in which a black bear is coming at you with one purpose in its mind from the beginning of the encounter: to kill you and then eat you. This is extremely rare behavior for black bears. Normally, black bears forage for food, eat insects and et cetera. Black bears are omnivorous who get most of their diet from plant matter (fruits, nuts, etc) and insects. However, black bears will kill deer and eat deer carcasses, but at a low rate per year (the average black bear may kill a single deer each year–on a totally unrelated note this is why deer are so overpopulated in the eastern United States, black bear do an ineffective job at naturally controlling their numbers, their natural predators the wolves and mountain lions have mostly been driven out of the eastern U.S.) So it is rare enough that black bears are out “hunting” and rarer still that humans are the target of their hunts.

Recorded killings by black bears over the past 100 years are well under 100 total. For every person killed by a black bear over the past 100 years, 17 people have died from spiders, 25 from snakes, and 67 from dogs. You are literally more likely to be killed by lightning than a black bear attack.

Nonetheless, from research my friend has done virtually all of the documented black bear killings were not defensive, they weren’t campers acting inappropriately and getting killed. They were black bears attacking people without provocation, killing them, and then eating significant parts of the human remains. The bears that do this exhibit more aggressive behavior than other black bears, they will hunt humans multiple times in their lives if given the chance. The reason that an extremely small number of black bears do this is unknown. The bears in question were not rabid, they were healthy bears who were hunting people. The only common denominator is that all of the bears identified who acted in a predatory manner towards humans lived in extremely remote areas and had probably had little to no human contact in their lives.

How do you deal with an attack from a predatory bear? Well, there’s three things you sure as hell better not do. The first is play dead, if a bear is attacking you as a predator, playing dead just means you’ve put yourself on the dinner plate. Running away is the second thing you shouldn’t do, black bears run at 25 mph with relative ease, the old myth that running downhill will allow you to escape a bear is false, they will catch you running downhill, uphill, et cetera. The third thing you shouldn’t do is climb a tree, black bears can climb trees with as much speed as a squirrel, black bears sometimes fight one another in trees, going up the tree puts you in a situation where they are very comfortable and comfortable even fighting. You basically have one real recourse in dealing with a predatory black bear attack, you fight back with everything you have. If you have a weapon of any kind, use it, and use it with lethal intent. If you put up enough of your fight, even with bare hands, you may be able to drive the black bear away. Pound for pound, black bears are way stronger and tougher than you. But that does not mean you can’t fight one off, you can. Overall if I put a human and a black bear in a ring, I’d put my money on the black bear if the black bear was willing to fight to the bitter end. However most animals are relatively conservative, and won’t risk severe injury for food, unlike humans who have hospitals and advanced medical care, if a black bear suffers a serious injury it could bring about their death in the wild.

So as you can see, the problem with playing dead for black bears is, it’s certain to get you killed in rare circumstances–and there are other ways to diffuse other situations. Basically, it’s just plain “not a good idea” to play dead for a black bear.

Adding complexity to dealing with blacks bears is that in nature, bears have two ways of dealing with other bears who piss them off. One is to do a “bluff” charge at the other bear. The other bear will almost always “back down” at this, as black bears tend not to get into “all out” fights very often in the wild. This isn’t dissimilar from the bluff charges that gorillas do to intimidate other gorillas or scare things away. Backing down (while also making noise and waving your hands) will diffuse this situation, as would playing dead. But how can you, as a regular Joe, tell the difference between a black bear’s “bluff charge” and one in which they coming at you in a predatory attack? The best thing to do when being charged is to get out of the way while making angry noises and jumping up and down/waving your hands. If the bear seems intent on getting to you, get ready for a fight.

The other way bears deal with other bears who piss them off is to “slap” or “club” them. This isn’t a sign of aggression per se, meaning in the wild bears who do this don’t “follow up.” It’s just the way the animal conveys it’s anger/irritation at another bear. If the other bear is also irritated, you could have a fight, as black bears do fight (albeit rarely, probably fighting amongst themselves much less frequently than humans do.) Humans will most often encounter this behavior when a black bear, out of curiosity or hunger, has come up to a campsite. Even in the wild, you can get very close to a black bear, and even touch them, without incident (my aforementioned friend has done this many times.) However, people, being dumb, often take this too far, they’ll pull on the bears ears, use flash photography at the bear, or even pet the bear. Bears can be touched safely (although why would you, unless you’re a bear expert?), but petting as one would a dog is seen as an aggressive action by bears. Basically, if people torment a bear it may slap one of them, then the people view this as a “bear attack” and may respond violently (by killing the bear) or by trying to kill the bear (which like any animal will defend itself if pushed too far.) The proper response to a “slap” is to just back down, it means you were doing something around a bear you shouldn’t have been doing and need to give it its space. A bear doing this is pretty easy to differentiate between a predatory bear, because a predatory bear will continue coming and trying to maul you, a “warning” slap will usually be singular in nature and the bear will just appear wary afterwards. A bear who is trying to kill you won’t stop and probably won’t even club you, it will probably try to pull you to the ground and then start biting.

These “warning” slaps by the way, sting like hell but typically don’t do serious damage. My friend has been hit by bears many times, it causes injuries that look like a row of “welts” and it may bruise, but he’s never had the skin broken by one. There is a dumb idea going around that a black bear can “disembowel a deer with a single swipe” this is not true. The black bear has claws adapted for digging into bark and climbing trees, not for using against prey. Bears primarily use their teeth when they are trying to kill something, much like a wolf or dog.

Black bear evolved in a world in which they were prey animals, this is why their typical response to trouble is to run away or climb a tree to get out of danger. However, for whatever reason, despite evolving as an animal “lower on the food chain” rare individual bears will sometimes display predatory behavior towards humans.

Grizzly bears have no problem, on the other hand, viewing humans as prey and hunting them down. However, grizzly bears are similar to black bears in that they get most of their food from foraging, scavenging, and et cetera. It is rare they have the need to hunt down an animal. But, bears have survived because they are opportunists, and during certain seasons where foraging is scarce, a grizzly will hunt and they aren’t bad at it, either. If humans are around, pretty much any grizzly who is out “hunting” for food will consider humans food. The reason predatory attacks from grizzlies are so rare (most grizzly deaths are defensive in nature, not predatory) is because humans share much less habitat with grizzlies than they do black bears, and thus when grizzlies are on one of their relatively rare “hunts” humans usually aren’t anywhere around and thus don’t end up on the menu. Most grizzly bear deaths are because humans have pissed the bear off and the bear is acting defensively. Grizzly bears are more prone to “stand and fight” when confronted with a problem, black bears are more prone to run away (in general.) That’s why playing dead is so useful when dealing with grizzly bear attacks, usually they are defensive in nature, so once you are no longer a “threat” the grizzly stops. It is playing the odds a bit though, because rarely, grizzlies behave as predators towards humans in which case playing dead just guarantees your death. But, playing the odds you’re much more likely to be encountering a grizzly who is acting “defensively” than you are one who is trying to make you dinner.

Polar bears are significantly different because of their habitat. Where they live, they have to hunt extensively to survive, and while (like all bears) they are omnivorous, because of their surroundings polar bears get almost all their food from meat. They also have very little conditioning with humans, so humans just look like food to them, pretty much like everything else they encounter in the north (caribou, walrus, seals, et al.) Polar bears are by far the most likely species to prey on humans (behaviorally) as they will eat anything they kill (including young/small whales.) But since very few humans share habitat with polar bears, statistically humans are unlikely to ever get eaten by them, but most experts believe being anywhere in the vicinity of a polar bear is dangerous–which isn’t really true for the other North American bears.

But they usually spit us out after tasting us. They prefer plump, fatty seals to scrawny humans.

It’s likely that our pre-Sapiens ancestors were preyed upon by big cats in Africa in the same way that monkeys and non-human apes are preyed upon today. Some chimps have been known to target human infants as prey, but they may also be exacting revenge rather than looking primarily for food.