Humans Are Now The African Savannah’s Top Predator

Although commonly dubbed the “king of the jungle,” lions are not typically found in jungles, and the lionesses are primarily responsible for hunting.

Interestingly, in a recent shift, many animals in a South African ecological park seem to dread humans more than lions, as revealed in a study from the journal Current Biology dated October 5. Approximately 95% of the mammals coexisting with lions displayed a greater fear of human voices than of lion roars or hunting noises.

The research centered on the Greater Kruger National Park in South Africa, a conserved space spanning about 1,328 square miles. This park shelters one of the globe’s most extensive free-ranging lion groups.

Despite African lions being listed as endangered since 2015, they remain one of the top group-hunting terrestrial predators. Yet, humans are increasingly challenging this status, with several studies indicating that humans hunt at accelerated rates compared to lions. This particular research sought to gauge the comparative fear animals hold for humans and lions.

For the research, scientists meticulously monitored the reactions of 19 mammal species to a selection of audio recordings. These included human dialogues, lion calls indicating a significant non-human predator’s proximity, and sounds like dog barks and gunfire, typically linked with hunting.

The human voice recordings, broadcasted at average speaking volumes, derived from radio or TV clips and featured four prevalent regional languages: Tsonga, Northern Sotho, English, and Afrikaans.

Using a waterproof camera system with extended battery longevity, enabling round-the-clock recording over months, the team amassed 15,000 video clips. These observations were made in the dry spell, with equipment stationed at watering holes to document various animals visiting for hydration.

Animals exhibited heightened fear when exposed to human audio clips. They were twice as prone to flee or abandon the watering holes than when they heard the sounds of lions or hunters.

Almost 95% of the species, which included animals such as giraffes, leopards, hyenas, warthogs, impalas, elephants, and rhinos, demonstrated heightened alertness or quicker departures when confronted with human noises compared to lion sounds.

The research team is now exploring if these audio systems can help redirect endangered species, notably the Southern white rhino, away from areas vulnerable to poaching in South Africa. Preliminary investigations indicate promising outcomes in diverting rhinos from certain zones using human voice recordings.