A new study conducted in South Africa has found that African savanna animals are more afraid of human voices than the growl of a lion.
The team of researchers used hidden speakers near water holes in the Kruger National Park to play recordings of people speaking. As a result, approximately 95% of the animals responded by rapidly fleeing the area.
On the other hand, the sound of snarling and growling lions in recordings had a much lower impact on inducing fear.
The chosen human speech featured commonly spoken local languages in the country.
As the experiment progressed, researchers observed that a number of elephants, upon hearing big cat cries, even ventured to confront the perceived source of the noise.
The recently published findings in the journal Current Biology demonstrate that various animals, such as antelopes, elephants, giraffes, leopards, and warthogs, have recognized the peril associated with human interaction, as a result of hunting, gun usage, and the use of dogs for capturing.
The expressed concern reaches beyond the boundaries of the Kruger National Park, as research demonstrates that animals worldwide tend to have a stronger fear of humans than any other predator.
The authors point out that this presents a difficult situation for destinations that are heavily reliant on wildlife-based travel, as the intended tourists may unintentionally disturb the animals they are eager to witness.
Contrary to the prevailing belief, our research has shown that animals do not necessarily become desensitized to humans if they are not hunted.
To effectively conserve wildlife, we must give serious consideration to the deeply entrenched and widespread fear animals have towards humans.
Dr. Liana Zanette, another researcher involved in the study, explained that their research centers around the "ecology of fear," which examines how predator-prey interactions affect ecosystems.
The decline in prey numbers caused by predators is well known, but our previous research has shown that the fear predators instill in prey can also contribute to this decline.
Taking into account the fear we evoke in wildlife can be a crucial aspect of conservation planning and protected area management, offering both challenges and opportunities.
Additionally, these findings present possibilities for safeguarding vulnerable species in these ecosystems. The strategic use of human noises could aid in deterring illegal poaching.
We are working together on experiments to assess the success of preventing poaching in areas where rhinos are at a high risk.