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Why Humans Have The Scariest Voice In Nature

May 17, 2024 8:00 am in by

An intriguing study conducted in South Africa has discovered that savannah wildlife is twice as likely to flee from the sounds of human voices than from lions’ roars. Led by Michael Clinchy at the University of Western Ontario, the research revealed that species such as giraffes, elephants, impalas, rhinoceroses, and leopards reacted fearfully to recordings of humans speaking. These findings highlight the potential negative impacts of human presence on wildlife habitats worldwide, suggesting that human vocal recordings could deter wildlife from inhabiting dangerous zones or entering farming areas.

Fear Response to Human Voices

Published in the journal Current Biology, this study explored the impact of humans on the animal kingdom using video and audio surveillance in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. The researchers measured the fear response of various mammals to different stimuli, including the sound of human voices. The results were striking: the sound of humans talking triggered greater fear in animals than lion growls. Among the savanna’s diverse wildlife, humans emerged as the most lethal threat.

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Capturing Wildlife Reactions

Headed by conservation biologist Michael Clinchy and Liana Zanette from Western University in Ontario, the team utilised motion-triggered automated behavioural response systems to capture and analyse over 4,000 videos of animals’ reactions to various sounds. They found that upon hearing human voices, animals were twice as prone to flee and would do so from water holes 40% more quickly than when confronted by the sounds of lions, dogs, or gunshots.

Varied Reactions Among Species

The study noted that not all animals responded identically. For instance, elephants, rather than fleeing from the sounds of lions, charged towards them. However, these same creatures exhibited intense fear and fled from the sound of human voices. This comprehensive study of 19 species adds to the growing understanding of the extensive influence humans have on ecosystems, potentially assisting efforts to prevent wildlife poaching by using recorded human voices to keep wildlife away from high-risk areas

Implications for Conservation and Tourism

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Research from the Greater Kruger National Park demonstrates that African wildlife is more likely to run from human voices than from noises made by lions, gunshots, or dogs. This fear complicates tourism but introduces a method to keep animals away from poaching areas. The study reinforces the concept of humans as “superpredators,” capable of exploiting a wide range of prey at unsustainable rates. These findings could protect species like rhinos, more prone to flee from human voices, by utilising this reaction to deter poaching.

A Broader Perspective on Human Influence

In 2017, ecologist Justin Suraci and his team from the University of California conducted a similar experiment in the Santa Cruz Mountains. They found that even the softest human speech distressed local fauna, including mountain lions and bobcats. This signifies our intimidating presence as a “super-predator.” The mere perceived presence of humans can disturb and alter animal behaviour, affecting entire ecosystems. This fear-induced behavioural change extends beyond habitat destruction and hunting, creating what ecologists call a “landscape of fear.”

Balancing Human Activity and Wildlife Conservation

Managing human activity, timing, and access in crucial habitats can accommodate wildlife, potentially allowing larger mammals to coexist with us on our increasingly populated planet. Further research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of these fear-induced behavioural changes on animal species and ecosystems. However, this study underscores the intricate ties between humans and wildlife within natural settings, offering new strategies for conservation and coexistence.

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