Maneaters

Skull of maneating tiger, Horniman Museum NH.74.11.19

Tool use, technology and cooperation have allowed humans to claw their way to the top of the predatory heap. As a species we can and do kill anything and everything. Sometimes we kill for food, sometimes for profit and sometimes for fun. Very occasionally we also kill for self protection.

Humans have been largely off the menu for quite some time - and although people are still killed and eaten by large predators with some regularity (perhaps a hundred or so a year), humans are not the first prey of choice for any species of carnivore – it’s just that some individuals within a species will develop a taste for human. When there are attacks on people it will usually be because there has been a blurring of borders between a human habitat and the habitat of the predator. The most obvious example of this is when humans are occasionally taken by sharks whilst in the sea or by crocodiles in lakes and rivers.

Staying on land, the blurring of borders between predators and people is linked with habitat loss  and the encroachment of human development, agriculture and habitation, with the associated issues of deforestation and re-purposing of land. The development of infrastructure brings humans into wilderness, such as with the Tsavo bridge project in Kenya, where a pair of lions terrorised construction workers for ten months in 1898, eating about 35 and possibly killing around 135.

As habitat is lost, predators are faced with fewer natural prey and they are thrust into close proximity with domesticated animals – with obvious consequences.  Where you have livestock being killed you also have people trying to protect their livelihood and this is where the conflict really heats up, taking its toll on both the people and the predators. There can be no winners. Continue reading

The unbroken chain of life

Having spent years studying the bones of animals long dead, I have been fortunate enough to see – on a daily basis – evidence of the relationship between humans and other animals. For me, our kinship with the rest of life on Earth is a vivid reality. Evolution is change and that change is the result of an ongoing struggle for life – where those that are best suited for the struggle are rewarded by the continuation of their lineage. This means that we are each an end link in an unbroken chain of life, stretching back over two billion years. For all that time, each one of our ancestors must have been amongst the best of their kind. In the words of Charles Darwin, “There is grandeur in this view of life”. Continue reading