Tetrapod Zoology

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In 2006, the second series of the BBC’s Planet Earth was screened. If you saw the series, you’ll know that it included a lot of awesome stuff. One thing that got an awful lot of people talking was the amazing footage – included as part of episode 2 (‘Great Plains’) – showing the elephant-killing lions of Savuti in Chobe National Park, northern Botswana. I wrote about this footage at Tet Zoo ver 1 back in November 2006 (it’s here), and – for those who didn’t see it first time round – here it is again…

While most people ‘know’ that elephants are immune to predation thanks to their size, nobody has told this to the Savuti lions. Hunting at night, when the elephant’s poor night vision puts them at a major disadvantage, the lions co-operate as a pride of about 30 individuals to bring down and dispatch elephant prey. It is amazing. But, as usual, the media is leading us all horribly astray.

We should make clear to begin with that these are not just any old lions, behaving spontaneously or opportunistically: they are a specialised, highly experienced population that have, uniquely, become elephant killers. While there are some major questions as to how the Savuti lions learnt to do this, Planet Earth didn’t, unfortunately, touch on how old this culture is, or how it originated. It is thought that the Savuti lions have learnt over time to kill bigger and bigger prey, each time winning success by the virtue of their large pride size. Lions elsewhere can – opportunistically – kill Cape buffalo Syncerus caffer* (weighing c. 1000 kg) and sometimes hippo Hippopotamus amphibius (c. 1500-3500 kg). It’s been speculated that, after learning to successful tackle and kill hippo, the Savuti lions became bold enough to begin regular predation on juvenile elephants. Eventually, they were able to switch to adult elephants. And YES, the Savuti lions have been recorded attacking and killing adult elephants.

* Though note that some lion populations are specialist buffalo-killers. In Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park, George Schaller (1972) reported that an amazing 62% of all lion prey was made up of Cape buffalo, with 81% of this 62% being adult male buffalo. Buffalo-killing is also important to the lions of Kruger National Park. Male lions at Kruger are frequent and successful hunters and are better able to kill buffalo than are females (Funston et al. 1998).

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A few opportunistically recorded events may have encouraged the lions to view elephants as potential prey. In their National Geographic film Ultimate Enemies, wildlife film-makers Dereck and Beverly Joubert recorded a case where, after a fight with another bull, a defeated elephant lay, wounded, on the ground. The elephant’s misfortune then became the lion pride’s gain. Wildlife photographer and travel writer Leigh Kemp recorded a case where an old, weakened bull that collapsed and became unable to stand was discovered and eaten (while still alive) by opportunistic lions. It is tempting to suggest that these events and others like them might have been catalysts in encouraging the development of elephant-killing in the Savuti lions. Numerous other instances of elephant-killing have been filmed and documented by the Jouberts, and in 1997 they published a book covering this behaviour in depth (The Lions of Savuti: Hunting with the Moon, published by National Geographic).

The Lions of Savuti: Hunting with the Moon records something like 15 years of observations, and even in 1990 the Jouberts were estimating that about 20% of the Savuti lion’s diet was made up of elephant. I would love to know if the behaviour goes back further than this, as I find it highly unlikely that this behaviour is something that the lions have ‘just learnt’. Historically, Africa was filled with a lot more lions and a lot more elephants than it is now, and given the extraordinary behavioural flexibility of lions* I suspect that elephant-killing is something that lions have practiced many many times in the near and distant past.

* If you’re read Bruce D. Patterson’s outstanding The Lions of Tsavo (Patterson 2004) you’ll know that studies of the Serengeti-type lion that we’re all so familiar with (e.g., Schaller 1972) have ‘created an orthodoxy around lion biology that applies poorly to the species elsewhere’ (p. 138).

The fact that the Jouberts were photographing and filming this behaviour negates one of the claims that have appeared as a result of Planet Earth‘s coverage: this being that the BBC were the first to film this behaviour (not that anyone working for the BBC has said this, so far as I can tell). In fact Ultimate Enemies, showing scenes of night-time elephant predation by Savuti lions, was broadcast in North America in 2004. This is not to downplay the BBC’s commendable efforts, however, and it is clear that obtaining the sort of footage they did is tremendously time-consuming and dangerous. Surrounded by panicked elephants lumbering around in the dark, and by hungry and aggressive lions that routinely kill animals weighing many hundreds of kilos, the camera teams were in the middle of the bush, in the middle of the night, in small jeeps with open sides and windows.

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What did we actually get to see? The answer to this is both positive and negative. To begin with, it seems that the lions used psychological warfare to intimidate and confuse the elephants: loud roaring in the dark. This behaviour has been recorded in other lion populations and also in leopards, and it seems that the idea is to scare prey into making an ill-thought dash for ‘safety’. Paying particular attention to juvenile and adolescent elephants, especially those that were separated from the rest of the herd, the lions were then shown attacking the hind legs and haunches of fleeing elephants, biting and clawing and hanging on to the pursued animal. And that… is about it. Here’s where we come to the negative, particularly problematic, part of this whole story.

We empathise with elephants. And, somehow, seeing them being killed and eaten by big cats is, for many people, just wrong. That may or may not be a justifiable point of view, but what is undeniable is that elephant-killing is protracted, unpleasant, and gory. Consequently almost none of the actual killing was shown. By clawing and biting at the elephant’s legs, the lions hamstring a chosen elephant, and also use the combined weight of multiple individuals to bring it down. This apparently happens surprisingly quickly. From spotting an elephant, to pursuing it, to getting it to collapse: all can take as little as 30 seconds. Once an elephant is down, some of the lions work on clamping its trunk shut, and I presume that they might also attack the throat and mouth. Like it or not, we can assume that lions at the other end of the animal will now begin feeding. The elephant might take about 30 minutes to die. It does not sound nice, or look nice.

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I empathise with elephants, and do not enjoy the thought of them being killed. But the fascination that I have for animals makes me want to know more about what actually happens. This is a natural act of predation: sure, it’s not pleasant, or pretty, but I want to know what happens. For me, the footage was ultimately disappointing, then, in showing bugger all (worth noting here is that views on the screening of acts of predation are starting to change. See Finally: big cat kills uncensored and uncut).

What makes this all the more frustrating is the implication from some that the lions are downright nasty, committing an evil, murderous act that is heinous and unjust. An article – titled ‘The killing fields’ – that appeared in Times2 (a supplement to the British newspaper The Times) described the footage as ‘possibly the most shocking natural history footage you will have seen’. It went on to state that ‘If you have any sentimental feelings about lions, prepare to lose them’. I’m sorry, but that’s crap. The appreciation I have of lions and their amazing behavioural flexibility and unique social system is increased by the knowledge that they have learnt to kill elephants. Yes it’s gory, and – no doubt about it from our point of view – upsetting and even horrific, but it is an amazing thing that we should wonder at.

Refs – -

Funston, P. J., Mills, M. G. L., Biggs, H. C. & Richardson, P. R. K. 1998. Hunting by male lions: ecological influences and socioecological implications. Animal Behaviour 56, 1333-1345.

Patterson, B. D. 2004. The Lions of Tsavo: Exploring the Legacy of Africa’s Notorious Man-Eaters. McGraw-Hill, New York.

Schaller, G. 1972. The Serengeti Lion. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Comments

  1. #1 robert jaques
    February 4, 2009

    I’m sure I can remember the year when they stopped showing animal deaths, around 2002. That’s when all British made nature documentary’s stopped showing the more grizzly side of things . I am probably wrong, but that’s when I began to notice it.

  2. #2 Lee Ward
    February 4, 2009

    I do think there’s something to be said in the defence of the typical Attenborough show, and it’s the argument from horror films: what you don’t see is worse than what you do. Who can forget the sequence from Blue Planet where a pod of orcas harried a humpback whale mother and calf, finally separating the pair after a long chase and then eating only the calf’s tongue. And yet I wouldn’t be surprised, on watching the sequence again, to discover that far less was shown than I had imagined. So a mainstream audience was informed of a fascinating and horrifying aspect of ethology previously unknown to most people. The horror wasn’t diminished by editing out the gore: if anything, it was augmented.

  3. #3 Christopher Taylor
    February 4, 2009

    To begin with, it seems that the lions used psychological warfare to intimidate and confuse the elephants: loud roaring in the dark. This behaviour has been recorded in other lion populations and also in leopards, and it seems that the idea is to scare prey into making an ill-thought dash for ‘safety’.

    I was reminded when I read this that in one of Gerald Durrell’s books (I forget which one, though I think it was one of the earlier ones), he describes his experiences when first starting work as a zoo-keeper learning about the difficulty of telling which direction lion noises are coming from. It may sound like it’s over the next hill, but it’s really right behind you.

  4. #4 Joe Hayhurst
    February 4, 2009

    I’m not sure there is anything particularly wrong with not showing the elephant being eaten alive, and neither does it imply that we now all love elephants and hate lions. Don’t forget that these programmes are watched by large numbers of kids who may be traumatised by what they see (as may I, as an adult of 32!) I think most people are capable of understanding ‘the law of the jungle’ without having the goriest bits shown in graphic detail. In fact you could argue that it shows ‘respect’ to the elephant in question – maybe the same respect that would be shown to a lion rather than broadcasting it being trampled to death or speared on a tusk!

  5. #5 Tilsim
    February 4, 2009

    Something I always wondered… what do the BBC, and other wildlife filmers, do with the snipped gory bits and other ‘superfluous’ footage?

    I suppose that would contain more behavioural data than the narrative they broadcast.

  6. #6 Strider
    February 4, 2009

    I’m pretty sure this was not “new” footage, in terms of its being the first time this kind of thing was broadcast. I seem to remember seeing this kind of thing on Nat Geo or Nature or something before 2006; I’m almost positive that Planet Earth was not the first documentary to show this kind of predation.

  7. #7 Stucchi
    February 4, 2009

    Strider, it is sometimes a good idea to read the whole article, not just the title.

  8. #8 Metalraptor
    February 4, 2009

    Its sad how the littlest things in biology scare people. I saw on tvtropes.org that someone got scared by…get this…After Man and the New Dinosaurs. WHAT! I might understand if the nightstalkers freaked them out, but the entire concept of the book scared them. And the New Dinosaurs. Except for the fact that the biological flaws made my eyes bleed, there was NOTHING scary about it. Even the carnivorous dinosaurs looked tame.

  9. #9 Rosel
    February 4, 2009

    I suppose we are looking at it with different eyes.

    We want to see facts, things that could otherwise only be seen in the field, whereas others want to just see the beauty of nature.

    I know from films studies how ‘fictitious’ documentaries actually are, and I can understand why they do it, but it would be interesting for them to occasionally cater to an audience with a more specific interest in natural history.

  10. #10 Andreas Johansson
    February 4, 2009

    Perhaps I watched too little Dumbo when I was little or something, but I really can’t see why some people seem to think that killing elephants is worse than killing gazelles.

  11. #11 Samantha Dixon
    February 4, 2009

    Don’t you mean Bambi Andreas?

    I agree with most views here. It IS absolute cr*p to look at this behaviour and think “oh poor elephants” and “oo nasty lions” (and ultimately drastically hypocritical – we all know that humans are VERY nasty beasties!).
    Unfortunately however this IS how small children (AND dumber viewers) will see things. If something kills something pretty (especially stalking it in the night). it’s bad; if something has big eyes and is stalked by big beasties, it’s a poor defenseless little thing and we’re on it’s side.
    You can’t really avoid affecting people’s opinions especially if they’re narrow- and non-scientifically- minded.

    The best we can do is produce films that take an objective viewpoint and don’t side with one animal or the other. This balance is surely hard to find when gory footage is involved and whether the BBC succeeded at getting it right or not, it’s clear that they thought about it and tried to avoid unecessary bias creeping in.

    That said I absolutely don’t agree that all gore should be removed – it’s needed to portray the truth – it’s part of getting the balance right.

  12. #12 Samantha Dixon
    February 4, 2009

    It should also be noted that sometimes the actual kill may not be included in footage shown simply because they didn’t get it on camera!

    I imagine navigating a heavy camcorder to point at an image you can only see on an infra-red screen at night with animals moving around one another rapidly and performing kills in 30seconds, can’t be easy. Especially since you no doubt spend hours beforehand trying to find said behaviour in the dark!!

  13. #13 Raymond Minton
    February 4, 2009

    I had to see this to believe it, Darren! Truth truly is stranger than fiction. This may give us some insight into how extinct cats like Homotherium preyed on mammoths and mastodons.

  14. #14 abb3w
    February 4, 2009

    Andreas Johansson: I really can’t see why some people seem to think that killing elephants is worse than killing gazelles.

    Endangered status of the elephant; bigger brain size; and that elephants may be one of the three non-hominid cultures close enough to our own as to allow humans some slim hope of being able to bridge the gap between.

  15. #15 Dartian
    February 4, 2009

    Near topic: I remember hearing of a case in India (in the 19th century or the early 20th century) where a number of adult elephants were attacked/killed by tigers. Or, more likely, by just one particular tiger, as the attacks occurred quite close to each other and within a short period of time. Does anyone else remember hearing of this, and if so, would anyone happen to know the original reference?

  16. #16 Chris Clark
    February 4, 2009

    If lions can co-operate to kill elephants, and elephants have a larger brain size than lions, isn’t it time elephants learned to co-operate against lions? Since herds tend to be closely related I would expect reciprocal altruism to kick in. Or is it that one is learned behaviour and the other is evolved behaviour, and the time scales are very different?

  17. #17 Carlos
    February 4, 2009

    Yeah, I remember the elpehant killing lions. I’ve seen Planet Earth at least twice, and before that I didn’t even knew lions could kill anything bigger than a giraffe.

    But people that think lions are evil elephant murders is just disgusting. Sometimes I wish to release them in the african wetlands in the dry season; then they would learn that starved hippos also eat meat

  18. #18 Carlos
    February 4, 2009

    Let me see the grammar mistakes I’ve made in the previous post:

    -”Elpehant” instead of elephant
    -putting “is” instead of “are”

    Any more?

  19. #19 Andreas Johansson
    February 4, 2009

    Samantha Dixon wrote:

    Don’t you mean Bambi Andreas?

    No, I mean Dumbo. Bambi wouldn’t be likely to imbue me with any special sympathy for elephants, would it?

    abb3w wrote:
    Endangered status of the elephant; bigger brain size; and that elephants may be one of the three non-hominid cultures close enough to our own as to allow humans some slim hope of being able to bridge the gap between.
    I can see why someone would grieve the death of an elephant more than the death of a gazelle. What doesn’t make sense to me is seeing the elephant-killing lion as “eviller” than the gazelle-killing one – the lion presumably isn’t aware of any of the things you list, and even if it were I do not see why the later two ought matter to it.

  20. #20 Andreas Johansson
    February 4, 2009

    Gack. The bit from “Endangered status” to “gap between” was supposed to be in blockquote.

  21. #21 David Marjanović
    February 4, 2009

    I imagine navigating a heavy camcorder to point at an image you can only see on an infra-red screen at night with animals moving around one another rapidly and performing kills in 30seconds, can’t be easy.

    Read the post again: it’s the felling, not the killing, that takes 30 seconds. The killing may take 30 minutes.

    This may give us some insight into how extinct cats like Homotherium preyed on mammoths and mastodons.

    But not much, because lions have conical canines, while saber-toothed cats, as their name says, didn’t. They had a serrated cutting edge on their blade-shaped canines, like theropods.

  22. #22 Katy
    February 4, 2009

    A friend of mine pointed me to your blog recently. I’ve been loving it!

    When people get upset about predators being predators it boggles my mind. Nature is brutal all around. I’m not sure where the gentle and harmonious outlook comes from. I’d actually be curious to know how long people have romanticized the natural world. Seems like it might be generated through harboring an upper class.

  23. #23 Ian Govey
    February 4, 2009

    Isn’t it interesting that in predator/prey interactions, humans almost always empathise with the prey? Not – “Oh good, those cute little lions are going to get a nice dinner.” Or “Yay, those starving eagle chicks are saved.”
    I must admit that I try to save the birds that my cat catches, too.

    I can’t help thinking that’s some reflection on human evolutionary history.

  24. #24 Neil
    February 4, 2009

    Great post. I to hate this censorship of animals people being like being killed. People need to learn nature is cruel. For example I often here people moaning about a sparrowhawk eating ALL the precious birds they put food out for they feed and how they can discourage/kill it! I mean if you gather its prey in one place its going to hunt there, and the sparrowhawk needs to eat too. Ironically they often turn out to have a cat too….

  25. #25 Nathan Myers
    February 4, 2009

    Neil: Your remark brings to mind the Far Side comic with the parents returning home to find the witch they hired as a babysitter had eaten both of their children.

  26. #26 Raptor Lewis
    February 4, 2009

    Planet Earth is awesome!! What I really like about it is it’s actual footage and not CG’d speculation as in Paleo Documentaries like Jurassic Fight Club, Walking with Dinosaurs, etc.

  27. #27 Metalraptor
    February 4, 2009

    “If lions can co-operate to kill elephants, and elephants have a larger brain size than lions, isn’t it time elephants learned to co-operate against lions? Since herds tend to be closely related I would expect reciprocal altruism to kick in. Or is it that one is learned behaviour and the other is evolved behaviour, and the time scales are very different”

    They would, but male elephants are loners, kicked out of their herd by the matriarch at a young age (the fact that male elephants sort of go into a “man-period” and try to trample anything in their path when they are ready to mate doesn’t help either). Male elephants get no back up, no help, no nothing. Hence the reason why in a lot of mammoth graveyards, all or almost all of the casualties are young males. Female elephants, yeah, a lion probably won’t pick a fight with them unless they want a phalanx of tusks at their throat.

  28. #28 Metalraptor
    February 4, 2009

    “Planet Earth is awesome!! What I really like about it is it’s actual footage and not CG’d speculation as in Paleo Documentaries like Jurassic Fight Club, Walking with Dinosaurs, etc.”

    Sorry to double post, but this comment came online at the same time as mine. Alright, the reason that Jurassic Fight Club and Walking With Dinosaurs are CG is BECAUSE THE ANIMALS IN IT ARE EXTINCT! Seriously, the only way you can get an actual “dinosaur” in a movie, is to put an alligator in a chicken suit and hope no one notices the difference. Walking with Dinosaurs was an excellent program, despite the fact that some of its restorations and behavior are dated (this being the days before Liaoning and the discovery that dinosaurs were more bird-like than crocodilian-like). If you want to see a dinosaur documentary that has accurate depictions, check out Dinosaur Planet, their raptors actually have feathers. As for me, I’ll stick with both.

  29. #29 John Scanlon FCD
    February 5, 2009

    Not lions and elephants, but sticking with the ‘giant’ theme, don’t miss the paper in Nature today by Jason Head et al. describing a rilly, rilly big snake from the Paleocene of Colombia. This must be time to revisit Stupidly large snakes: the story so far. Titanoboa cerrejonensis is a boine (‘true boa’) and has all the other claimants to ‘biggest snake’ beat, with the possible exception of that single partial vertebra that Adriana Albino illustrated in her 1991 Ciencia Hoy article (I don’t have it handy to check).
    Apart from the coolness of the fossil, the neat sciencey stuff includes refinement of the Head and Polly (2004) morphometric method for size estimation, and then using the maximum size of closely related poikilotherms (e.g. Titanoboa relative to Eunectes) as a proxy to estimate palaeotemperature. There’s a ‘News & Views’ article in the same issue by Matthew Huber explaining how that works.

    Palaeophiology contributing to climate science – this has got to improve my chance of getting research grants!

  30. #30 Rosel
    February 5, 2009

    @ Katy

    “I’d actually be curious to know how long people have romanticized the natural world. Seems like it might be generated through harboring an upper class.”

    I think ever since we stopped becoming hunter gatherers and started farming, since we felt we could control a small part of nature, we then have the benefit of finding the uncontrolled part fascinating.

    This Romanticism goes both ways, on the one hand it fosters a desire to protect the natural World even though it (seems) not to directly affect us, on the other hand it can breed sentimentality and excessive anthropomorphism, which leads to such things as the ‘demonisation’ of predators.

  31. #31 Dartian
    February 5, 2009

    Ian:

    Isn’t it interesting that in predator/prey interactions, humans almost always empathise with the prey?

    Humans empathise with the prey, yes, but usually only when the prey are birds or mammals. ‘A killer whale eats a penguin? Oh my, how horrible! A bottlenose dolphin eats a dozen herrings? Meh, they are only fish.’ When it’s about evoking empathy, fish – to say nothing about invertebrates – barely even register with most people.

  32. #32 John Moore, PhD
    February 5, 2009

    On an intellectual level, it’s a molecular dance even if one set of molecules belong to prey and the other belong to predator. On an emotional level, it’s difficult to watch any animal die, especially if it’s an individual of an endangered species, a newborn, or immature animal. I always root for the predators and hold a place in my heart for cheetahs, tigers and the like. It’s tough to watch a female lion kill a cheetah’s cubs or watch the polar bear die from a combination of hunger and blood loss due to a wound inflicted by a walrus tusk as shown also in Planet Earth. I’d have likely shot a walrus for the poor bear had I been there watching that spectacle. But I have the same bias other people have, I’d like Nature to live up to my expectations. Others’ expectations may be that predators should be removed from the environment to protect the other wildlife. We know how wrong that expectation is. I don’t wish to see a world without smart lions, tigers, and polar bears that can hunt people, elephants, or walrus. Such a world would be poorer without such creatures, but if the rest of humanity chooses that path consciously or unconsciously, how can I stop that as an individual?

    If the BBC decides not to show the gory bits so as to attract the biggest audience to their show, that’s their prerogative. They are in it for the money and the education comes second. If it were the other way around, there likely wouldn’t be many nature shows on TV. Do you remember the sportman films in the 1960′s where they showed wealthy people trophy hunting all these magnificent animals? Those were the nature shows of the day, with the exception of the cute Disney films. Where was the sport in that? Even my Father disliked those “nature” films and he was a hunter. Perhaps the BBC could do better, perhaps they don’t have to dramatize the “Struggle of Life” at an individual or emotional level, but what we have now is a lot better in accuracy and content than what we were shown as kids.

  33. #33 Jerzy
    February 5, 2009

    I also didn’t like cutting the most exciting part of the hunt.

    Such ‘documentaries’ are normally collages of many scenes shot in different times. So don’t believe that lions actually roared before hunting!

    One thing is that hide and subcutaenous fat of buffaloes or elephants is too thick for lions’ mouths. The hunt is usually wrestling to exhaustion, when lions pull and ride elephant until it is too tired to stand. I saw scenes which looked like lion rugby team heaping over a buffalo, which ran with several lions riding on it.

    Sometimes its otherwise: a lion succeeds in making a small wound, and bites again and again until it hopefully reaches some vital organ.

    BTW – some very good footages are on Youtube. One is giraffe hunt with 2 or 3 lions clutching giraffe’s legs like tree trunks and giraffe trying to run with attached lions.

    Lions definitely need saber teeth! I guess Smilodon would slash elephants hide or throat as easily as a lion slashes a hide of antelope.

  34. #34 Jerzy
    February 5, 2009

    BTW – interesting topic of ‘oversimplification’ of lion behavior from a study in single locality – Serengeti.

    There are lots of different lion lifestyles, and perhaps many other interesting lion populations went extinct.

    I saw photos of lion tracks made by chimp researcher in thick rainforest in Congo, several 100′s of kms from the nearest savanna-like clearing. How do lions hunt there?

  35. #35 neil
    February 5, 2009

    On the subject of BBCs Planet Earth the team behind it have a new series on next Wednesday called Natures Great Events – footage includes slow motion shots of gannets diving :)

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2009/01_january/05/nature.shtml

  36. #36 Dartian
    February 6, 2009

    Darren:

    It’s been speculated that, after learning to successful tackle and kill hippo, the Savuti lions became bold enough to begin regular predation on juvenile elephants.

    Some of those Savuti lions still seem to need some practice, though.

  37. #37 Jason
    February 6, 2009

    Animals eat other animals? Without cooking them first? I’m shocked.

  38. #38 Eugene_X
    February 6, 2009

    For years I have been paying close attention to notions of sympathy and antipathy both in animal documentaries and in real life in Africa. It seems to me that it’s entirely malleable. We do have a built-in sympathy for animals that exhibit behavioral traits that we can sympathize with– elephants are prime examples because they live in close-knit family groups with recognizable roles and demonstrable emotional bonds. Gazelles (as mentioned above) all look pretty much alike and behave more like schools of fish than human families. The same principle applies, to an extent, to whales and dolphins, even though they look alike, now that we as a society understand their sociability and inelligence– this is a big change from when we hunted them for oil or sport.

    But on television, a more important factor is the point of view of the narrator. When the lions are introduced as the protagonists– particularly when they are, for example, given names, and followed through the course of a year or so– they become the sympathized, and, for the sake of dramatic suspension of disbelief, we must immunize ourself against sympathy for their prey. On the contrary, if the program uses gazelles as protagonists, then we see the lions as menacing. The single most important aspect of the viewer’s reaction is the point of view of the narrative.

    One of the more interesting social phenomena related to this is the application of human notions of justice and morality to the natural behaviors of animals. Big cats are sometimes seen as “noble” or “just” killers of innocents because they are perceived as making “clean kills”, as opposed to hyenas, which are universally reviled because they are perceived as “cruelly” and “viciously” devouring their prey alive. There is quite a bit of cognitive dissonance when these preconceived notions are disrupted, as you point out.

    One really interesting exercise (try this sometime) is watching nature show without the soundtrack. it changes the experience completely when you don’t have the Voice of God explaining what’s going on.

    For anyone interested, I am an artist and much of my work explores all these nuances of human psychology and nature in depth: http://www.eugeneparnell.com.

  39. #39 Rainer Massmann
    February 7, 2009

    Hi all,

    you may be surprised – as I was – that the Savuti lions may not be the only ones that prey on elephants. Recently I stumbled across a paper where it is stated – quite incidentally – that lions in the Zakouma NP in Chad also prey to a considerable extent on elephants (here). Although the authors say that only elephants less than 10 years are taken, I’d say that’s already quite large.
    It seems nobody has watched Zakouma lions hunting elephants so far and the paper doesn’t go much into detail. Does anybody else know about these lions?

    Rainer

  40. #40 Graham King
    February 12, 2009

    Katy said:

    I’d actually be curious to know how long people have romanticized the natural world. Seems like it might be generated through harboring an upper class.

    Um, Middle class, I reckon:
    Upper class hunt (kill) for sport;
    Lower class have to kill to live (or to sell).

    Therefore both have closer connection to realities of nature, predation and death than middle class, who more likely bought their food animals ready-butchered as joints; or even had them bought and prepared for them by servants and brought to table only in cooked or sliced or pied or pateed un-animal-like state.

    Of course this is wild (or domesticated! :-> ) generalisation and exceptions abound.

  41. #41 David pearce
    August 26, 2009

    Do we want to preserve a living world where lions eat young elephants alive? Or should our wildlife parks be run humanely?
    http://www.abolitionist.com/reprogramming/index.html

  42. #42 Christopher Taylor
    August 26, 2009

    Okay, I just took a look at the link in the last comment – was that a joke, or do I need to go and wash out my brain?

  43. #43 Adrienne Desmond
    August 26, 2009

    Do we want to preserve a living world where lions eat young elephants alive?

    Yes. Yes we do. Dick.

  44. #44 Gloria
    August 26, 2009

    Blinking my eyes in disbelief over here at the ridiculous 2 comments made before mine on a science blog. Guess making scientific arguments are not allowed ’round these parts? I guess we have to “wash out our brains” and insult people after they make such arguments?

    Whatever happened to simple and rational human discourse?

  45. #45 Darren Naish
    August 27, 2009

    Blinking MY eyes at disbelief at the argument presented in comment 41, which I’m guessing you support or are connected with. I’ve never heard anything so insane. If you really want to rid the world of cruelty and suffering, I think you already have your hands full with one species in particular.

  46. #46 Nathan Myers
    August 27, 2009

    Thank you for calling attention to #41. This is the funniest thing I’ve read all week. The only thing that keeps me from identifying it as parody is its length.

    Darren has hit on the practical solution: eliminate H. sap. and cruelty will disappear from the world — once it’s done, of course. Suffering will go on, and I suppose cruelty will reappear once the hornbills or the otters begin to put their proto-minds to it, but that will be their problem.

  47. #47 David Pearce
    August 27, 2009

    Darren, imagine you were to stumble on a horrific scene like
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/poliza/183530778/
    where hyenas are slowly eating a baby elephant alive.
    Even the stills are so disturbing that the photographer has shrunk the images and toned down the colour.
    Clearly, you’d intervene if the victim had been human. So why is it “insane” to intervene because the victim belongs to a different species? The suffering is still horrific.
    For better or worse, “Nature” in the traditional sense isn’t going to exist for much longer outside our wildlife parks. Later this century, we’ll be able to choose the level of cruelty that occurs within them. All I’m arguing is that suffering in the living world should be minimized – whether it’s “natural” or not.

    Nathan, humans are indeed responsible for appalling cruelty. But we’re the only species ultimately capable of ending cruelty too. So I think it best if we don’t go extinct.

  48. #48 Darren Naish
    August 27, 2009

    I tried writing various response to comment 47 but kept giving up… I just can’t take this suggestion – that we should try to abolish suffering THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE GLOBAL ECOSYSTEM – at all seriously. I suspect I’m not alone. If you’re linking suffering with predation (which you are), you’re proposing an end to natural selection and hence to evolution. So… your own sense of sentimentality should result in mass extinction? Good work, how moral and humane of you. Nature is not just the stuff that happens in nature reserves. It also occurs in your cavity walls, in the carpet of your house, among the pigeons in the street, the rats in the sewers. Unless, that is, you think that baby elephants and antelopes and small furry animals are the only ones that ‘suffer’. Good luck in eradicating all that cruelty and suffering. Remember, start with humans first.

  49. #49 Nathan Myers
    August 27, 2009

    As daft as David’s suggestion is, I’m very happy to see it made, and thus happy that it appeared in Darren’s august blog for me to find. I’m happy because it makes me think. Yes, it would be nice for baby elephants not to have to suffer, or for hyenas not to starve for failure to make baby elephants suffer. Fill in “mice” and “cats”, “rotifers” and “ciliates”, “grass” and “cows” ad infinitum. Or are there some creatures that can be presumed not to suffer being eaten alive?

    As Darren notes, in case you didn’t parse it out, only after you achieve the goal of making humans stop being cruel to other humans, can you justify beginning on the larger task. In the interval you may be able to figure out how to describe your larger goal in a way that doesn’t sound, on reflection, entirely daft. You’ll have lots of time, so you can do a good job. My distant descendants will, no doubt, be eager to hear of it.

  50. #50 Robert
    August 27, 2009

    The only reason it looks absurd to try to abolish all suffering rather than just human suffering Darren is that

    a) we don’t have the technology to do it yet;
    b) it would involve a lot of effort by humans and, being selfish, would be reluctant to take on that responsiblity so would find excuses not to.

  51. #51 Gloria
    August 27, 2009

    Yes, let’s start with humans first. How shall we begin? Perhaps, not insulting humans making comments on a blog. That’s a good start. The fact that you insult someone making a suggestion (“I’ve never heard anything so insane”) rather than the previous commenter who called someone a “dick” is telling.

    Perhaps someone in the year 1200 would have said it was insane when someone told him that someday there might be a thing called planes or space travel or even photographs. To absolutely discount that something could ever, ever happen in any way, shape or form and call it the “most insane thing you’ve ever heard” is in itself insane in a way. I run a blog myself and when I disagree with someone I don’t insult them.

    By the way, I don’t necessarily agree with the idea posed to end all suffering even among non-human animals, but I am willing to talk about it and why it could or couldn’t or should or shouldn’t be done. I don’t see the point of writing a science blog at all if one doesn’t want to study and talk about things in a scientific way rather than resorting to knee-jerk insults at the mere suggestion of something one has not heard before. I can see people insulting their own blog commenters, and commenters insulting other commenters, on Gawker or other such sites.

  52. #52 Nathan Myers
    August 28, 2009

    Gloria: I plan to remain entirely free and easy about calling ideas and statements “daft”, or worse, and expect everyone else here not to take such remarks personally. Calling an idea “daft” is entirely different from calling a person “daft”. We don’t encourage the latter.

    We might imagine, someday, reprogramming prey species so they get a massive endorphin release when bitten, but there would be rather some danger of them seeking out such treatment if it triggered too easily.

  53. #53 Wingnut
    August 28, 2009

    Lawn mowers should be banned! Cattle should not be allowed to graze! Save Our Sprouts!

  54. #54 Dartian
    August 28, 2009

    Gloria:

    I don’t see the point of writing a science blog at all if one doesn’t want to study and talk about things in a scientific way

    To a scientist, using the word ‘cruelty’ to describe the behaviour of non-human animals, particularly predators killing their prey, is unscientific. It is to assume intentional malice for which there is little or no real evidence. As for suffering, which certainly exists in nature (in far, far greater amounts than we can possibly imagine), I refer you to Richard Dawkins:

    [N]ature is neither kind nor unkind. She is neither against suffering, nor for it. Nature is not interested in suffering one way or the other unless it affects the survival of DNA.

    I strongly recommend that you (and David Pearce) go and read the rest of Dawkins’ article here.

  55. #55 johannes
    August 28, 2009

    > be reprogramming or phasing out snakes and crocodiles.
    > Most controversial of all, however, would be the extinction
    > – or genetically-driven behavioural modification

    Somebody is calling for the extermination of animal species – on the blog of a zoologist :-(!. Zoology is about understanding animals, not about destroying them, or modifying them into sad caricatures of themselves. Those who want to destroy lions or spotted hyaenas are barbarians. I think these creeps should be banned like Peter Mihalda.

  56. #56 Darren Naish
    August 28, 2009

    I agree with Johannes: I find the proposals made on that website offensive as well as ridiculous. The last time I saw the same argument being made (viz, that ‘vile’ animals -like snakes and crocodilians – should be allowed to go extinct) it was on an extremist religious website where the writer regarded such creatures as the creation of Satan. Indeed, I initially assumed that David’s arguments sprung from religious fundamentalism of some sort.

    Gloria: the blog site you are looking at now is run by an individual. It does not represent science as a whole or any official institution or body. If I (or anyone else) feel that someone’s idea is ridiculous, I (or they) have every right to say so. The notion that thousands of species are offensive and should be allowed (or made) to go extinct, and that predators should be genetically modified to be ‘less cruel’, is crazy and also fundamentally WRONG. We have already screwed with the natural world enough.

  57. #57 Gloria
    August 28, 2009

    The incident described in this blog post took place in a nature preserve created by humans. I assume the number of animals of every species is carefully monitored and controlled by humans in this preserve. Therefore, an argument could be made that since humans are controlling it anyway, they could control it in a way which minimizes suffering.

    I assume that everyone here who is so rabidly against messing with nature is also avidly against any sort of zoo or circus? These are institutions which actively take animals out of their natural habitats and place them into human-controlled conditions, and in the case of a circus, making the animals perform tricks on cue.

  58. #58 Tsu Dho Nimh
    August 28, 2009

    @41 Do we want to preserve a living world where lions eat young elephants alive? Or should our wildlife parks be run humanely?

    Right now they are run “naturally”, “lionly”, and “elephantly”.

    What gives you the right to inflict your humano-centric prejudices on lions?

  59. #59 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    @ Tsu Dho Nimh: ‘Right now they are run “naturally”, “lionly”, and “elephantly”.’

    How do you know that? It is run by humans, and therefore could be said to be run by what humans consider to be “lionly” and “elephantly.” If able to speak for itself, an elephant might object to being overrun by 30 lions! Seems the one in the picture is trying to make an escape.

  60. #60 Brian X
    August 29, 2009

    David Pearce:

    The only thing that your piece makes clear to me is that your concept of nature developed watching bad nature documentaries at the age of four and has not advanced significantly since then.

  61. #61 Gloria
    August 29, 2009

    Brian, glad that you are able to make such judgements/pronouncements, diagnosed completely through the Internet. Must be a useful tool.

  62. #62 Darr
    August 29, 2009

    Why focus only on carnivores?

    There’s a growing body of evidence indicating that plants respond to predation, indicating that they experience at least an analog to pain.

    It can then be argued that herbivores and vegans are inflicting suffering in the same way that carnivores and omnivores can be so accused, herbivores and vegans merely prey on plants, rather than animals. Baby hippos devour plants alive, the great herds of ruminants partially consume millions of living organisms, leaving multilated but still living carcasses in their wake, struggling to heal.

    And plants, apparently, are not so innocent either. Many are know to parasitize other plants, to exploit and enslave fungi and molds (or is it the other way around), and to purposefully interfere in other plants access to life-necessary nutrients, sunlight or water.

    Bacteria wage wars, virus’s and molds parasitize and kill other living organisms.

    Organic life has a habit of preying on other forms of life.

  63. #63 Adam
    August 29, 2009

    Drat, comments closed on the other article while I was writing my post. So I’ll be doing something ethically questionable and posting it here. The following can be considered a summation of the ideas I’ve seen.
    —————
    David Peirce & Co. Morally, suffering is bad. Therefore, we should work to eliminate it. Rather than drawing arbitrary lines between human and nonhuman, natural and unnatural suffering, we ought to work to eliminate it all, everywhere. Note that since Pierce is a transhumanist, he believes that someday people will actually be powerful enough to address these problems (this comes from a direct extrapolation of a curve of technological advancement)

    Practically speaking, I think this will prove technically impossible. And I disagree with the idea that preventing suffering is the ultimate moral goal. But he does have some reasons for his beliefs, and I admire someone who really takes things to their logical conclusions, even if I disagree with them.

    Next up are the people who say that the whole idea is ridiculous because there’s no way to end predation, and anyway doing so would cause a herbivorous explosion and not end suffering. These people are right, as far as they go. But they don’t address the root philosophical question at all-whether or not we should act to minimize all suffering, given the capability to do so. Presumably, Pierce would say that it’s not the methods used to eliminate suffering that are important, but the ends achieved. If something causes a herbivore explosion and increases suffering, it wouldn’t be in the game plan.

    Next are the people who value nature inherently, and think people should seek to modify it as little as possible. It’s simply a different ethical judgment to place more value in nature than in preventing suffering. I don’t think preserving nature should be at the top of our ethical priorities, but its a valid counterargument.

    Similarly, some people on the thread value choice, both in nature and among people, to choose pain or pleasure. Better to suffer freely than be controlled by others is the idea. They object to humans forcing their views on others. Of course, they are forcing their views on the utilitarians, but I don’t think this destroys their argument. For the record, I still disagree with the idea in various places but think it does have some value.

    Taking the previous stance a bit further, some argue that morality and ethics are human constructs which don’t exist in any real sense, meaning that there is no meaning or point in reducing suffering. I sometimes think that this is the only reasonable view for a strict materialist (this is a big part of the reason I am not a strict materialist).

    Finally, there are various trolls, ad hominems, and other meaningless responses barely worth noting

    So it really comes down to what you think is most important: reducing suffering, preserving nature, preserving autonomy, doing what you personally feel like because there is no overarching ethical goal, or pursuing some ethical or moral goal not mentioned. (or some combination of the above) These questions are difficult to address, and science isn’t very helpful in answering them.

  64. #64 Nathan Myers
    August 29, 2009

    Thank you, Adam, for reducing me to a meaningless response barely worth noting.

    Despite my status, I will point out that the underlying question at issue was spelled out and analyzed some 2500 years ago. The first precept of Buddhism is that the fundamental experience of existence is suffering. They recognized that trying to reduce suffering is pointless (how do you measure it?), and the only sensible goal is to eliminate it entirely. They have realized further (and this is an insight perhaps forever opaque to an Oxford don) that one can never eliminate another’s suffering, only one’s own. They designed a program by which one could do that. Many people have tried it, and some have succeeded.

    I suppose we could put everything and everyone each in a glass bottle, instead, pumping in nutrients and extracting waste.

  65. #65 Adam
    August 29, 2009

    Nathan, while its beyond me to remember who said what in that 200+ long comments section, if your current comment is representative I don’t think I’d put you in the troll camp, which is reserved for people who mock without thinking, attack the person and not the idea, and talk in the theater. You may not fall exactly in any of the main trends I saw, but that doesn’t make your opinion meaningless, provided it’s well thought out. All I’m trying to get at is that a) simply claiming this idea is impractical doesn’t really get at the root of the issue, and b) this topic is interesting because it shows what people really consider to be important.

    And finally, in case my first post didn’t make it clear, I really think that ending suffering for everything isn’t the goal humanity should be setting for itself. I don’t think it addresses the root issue of whats wrong with the world, and I’m highly suspicious of the “for your own good” mentality some utilitarians hold. But it’s a free internet, people can and will believe all sorts of strange things.

  66. #66 Raymond
    August 30, 2009

    I’m rather aghast at this whole situation.

    Nature have _always_ had undeniably horrifically, slow deaths for some of the Terran Lifeforms present since the beginning of predation billions of years ago. To try to remove that aspect is beyond the ken of *Homo sapiens sapiens*.

    I disagree with the nature park managers who say it is “natural” for elephant calves and others to suffer for days at the jaws and claws of predators. Shoot the fuckin’ calf stuck in the mud. Our human reaction is no less “natural” than any other life-form’s behavior. The act of merciful killing will, at most, drive off the predators temporarily.
    Yes, we humans cannot be there for every human-specific “horrific” act of suffering, but our reactions are no less valid than anything else in Nature.

    It is best to remove psychopathic behavior among humans before trying to even attempt to induce widespread massive ecosystem upheaval.

    Humans need to deal with their own genetic and environmental intraspecific predators before they even think of dealing with the ecosystem at large.

  67. #67 Gloria
    August 31, 2009

    Darr– the point is not predation itself, but the capacity to suffer. I would be interested if you could point me to a study which reveals that plants are sentient and feel pain in a way that animals have been shown to in numerous studies, similar to humans.

  68. #68 David Marjanović
    August 31, 2009

    Yes, let’s start with humans first. How shall we begin? Perhaps, not insulting humans making comments on a blog. That’s a good start. The fact that you insult someone making a suggestion (“I’ve never heard anything so insane”) rather than the previous commenter who called someone a “dick” is telling.

    TSIB.

    Really, that’s all I can say. You talk about baby elephants being eaten while alive and conscious — and then you belittle this suffering by comparing it to people fucking INSULTING each other?

    Have you no sense of proportion? At last, have you no sense of proportion!?!

    The last time I saw the same argument being made (viz, that ‘vile’ animals -like snakes and crocodilians – should be allowed to go extinct) it was on an extremist religious website where the writer regarded such creatures as the creation of Satan.

    Frankly, I call Poe’s Law on that one.

    The incident described in this blog post took place in a nature preserve created by humans. I assume the number of animals of every species is carefully monitored and controlled by humans in this preserve.

    Your ignorance is astounding. Head-against-wall astounding.

    And yes, this holds even when we kindly interpret “animals of every species” as “animals of every species with an adult size above that of a house cat”.

    I sometimes think that this is the only reasonable view for a strict materialist (this is a big part of the reason I am not a strict materialist).

    Hear, hear — an argument from consequences.

    <sigh>

    Nature have _always_ had undeniably horrifically, slow deaths for some of the Terran Lifeforms present since the beginning of predation billions of years ago. To try to remove that aspect is beyond the ken of *Homo sapiens sapiens*.

    Now, now, don’t wax poetic. There’s no reason to derive an ought from an is. As far as I can see, the real points here are:

    - The original argument is that we should do all that bizarro genetic engineering stuff once transhumanism has made us capable of it. So what? What’s the point of discussing whether we should do something that isn’t even possible, at least not yet?

    - No method seems to have been proposed to avoid horrible planet-wide ecosystem collapses, complete with planet-wide starvation (boom-bust) cycles and all that stuff. Without such a method, we really shouldn’t do it, because it would in the process kill us, our atmosphere, our climate, and even more things.

  69. #69 Nathan Myers
    August 31, 2009

    Just in case it wasn’t clear, I would find being kept in a glass bottle with nutrients pumped in and wastes extracted markedly unpleasant. Without internet service, I might even call it suffering.

    Thank you, David, for Poe’s Law. I suppose I was trying, in my ignorance, to cite that back in #46. As to your two points: the second is of no interest whatsoever, nohow, to a philosopher. The first misses the nature of philosophy, which is not to make or inform actual or even hypothetical choices, but to try to refine our understanding of the meaning of a word such as “suffering”. This lapse is understandable as Prof. Pearce himself evidently forgot, somewhere along the way, that he was doing philosophy.

    I don’t know if we’ve learned anything about the nature of suffering, but it seems pretty clear that lots of people doubt that it necessarily has negative utility, even as applied to themselves.

  70. #70 Raymond
    August 31, 2009

    -Now, now, don’t wax poetic. There’s no reason to derive an ought from an is. As far as I can see, the real points here are:

    Oh c’mon David, after Tiina’s excoriation, this is one
    of my more decent brainfarts.

    - The original argument is that we should do all that bizarro genetic engineering stuff once transhumanism has made us capable of it. So what? What’s the point of discussing whether we should do something that isn’t even possible, at least not yet?

    One could make the same case for terraforming, yet it
    seems likely it will happen on some scale on extraterrestrial bodies.

    - No method seems to have been proposed to avoid horrible planet-wide ecosystem collapses, complete with planet-wide starvation (boom-bust) cycles and all that stuff. Without such a method, we really shouldn’t do it, because it would in the process kill us, our atmosphere, our climate, and even more things

    And that is the crux of the matter here, we are not Gods and probably wouldn’t come close even after a purported “Transhumanistic” event.

  71. #71 DuWayne
    September 1, 2009

    Frankly, I call Poe’s Law on that one.

    I don’t know about that David.

    Back when I was rather young, watching the 700 club, one of the questions that good old Pat took related to that. It is definitely fringe lunacy, as Pat explained that no, snakes were not created by Satan – rather they are all part of his god’s creation. And he then went on to denounce some pastor or another, who had apparently written a book pushing that idea – along with a whole lot of Christian nation nonsense and extremist sorts of evangelism and missionary work.

    And honestly, given what I have seen on some of the more extreme Christian sites (I tend to believe these folks have transcended mere fundamentalism), I am no longer surprised and no longer inclined to assume anything is Poe, unless it is proven otherwise. Because what I have read, coupled with religialoons I have actually met and my own experience with Faith I am well aware that religion can and often manages to make people completely insane – that and it often attracts people who have preexisting neurological issues. So it really shouldn’t be that shocking. I mean hell, look at the people here, who are advocating extreme alterations of the natural world to fit their moral frame.

    In the face of that, you have trouble buying lunacy from religious extremists? They’re probably U.S. Americans, if it helps you swallow it…

  72. #72 DuWayne
    September 1, 2009

    It occurs to me that many folks may not be familiar with the 700 club. That would be the televangelical show of Pat Robertson who, among other things, purports himself capable of leg pressing 3000lbs and who claims to have the gift of prophecy.

  73. #73 Lars Dietz
    September 1, 2009

    Here’s a review of a book by two Christian fundamentalists who argue that dinosaurs, crocodiles, venomous snakes etc. are creations of Satan and the “meteorite” that killed the dinosaurs was actually Satan himself, smacked down to Earth by God! They also argue that we should eradicate all of Satan’s creatures. I haven’t seen the book itself, but it appears to be serious.
    http://www.pacifier.com/~dkossy/dino.html

  74. #74 Zach Miller
    September 1, 2009

    If we ask the baby elephant whether he wants to be overrun by 30-odd lions, and he says “no,” then we stop the lions from eating him. Great. But then aren’t the lions suffering because they’re not eating?

    And why focus on just mammalian carnivores? Pearce seems to have a soft spot for baby elephants being attacked by lions. What about fungi that infest ants and kill them from within? What about eagles that steal each-others fish? What about tortoises who much on cacti? Where does it end? How are we going to feed anybody?

  75. #75 Nathan Myers
    September 1, 2009

    Zach: Channeling the philosophers, I ask “what is this word how you are using? It seems to have something to do with practical matters.”

    Poe’s law reveals, precisely, that there is exactly no difference between any fundamentalist doctrine (“extreme” or otherwise) and parody. Therefore, it is pointless and distracting to try to distinguish them. Laugh if they’re funny, roll your eyes if they’re not. Anyone who believes they can be distinguished by content is hallucinating. (Likewise “fundamentalist” vs. “extremist”.)

  76. #76 jon harper
    September 2, 2009

    The Doctor: Davros, if you had created a virus in your laboratory, something contagious and infectious that killed on contact, a virus that would destroy all other forms of life; would you allow its use?
    Davros: It is an interesting conjecture.
    The Doctor: Would you do it?
    Davros: The only living thing… The microscopic organism… reigning supreme… A fascinating idea.
    The Doctor: But would you do it?
    Davros: Yes; yes. To hold in my hand, a capsule that contained such power. To know that life and death on such a scale was my choice. To know that the tiny pressure on my thumb, enough to break the glass, would end everything. Yes! I would do it! That power would set me up above the gods! And through the Daleks I shall have that power!

  77. #77 Anonymous
    September 10, 2009

    So…not to detract from this big massive…debate, but has anyone here read Ivory Extraordinaire? From what I hear its a speculative zoology book in the same vein as Rivers of Time, but set in a universe where the above article is the norm. Apparently proboscideans outcompeted artiodactyls and perissodactyls for the mid to large-sized herbivore niches in the Miocene in this world, and all the carnivores had to get souped up in order to compete. Sounds interesting.

  78. #78 Nitin Hadap
    November 19, 2009

    Dear sir
    I am nitin hadap, an art hisorian and working on Ancient indian motif/symbols.
    I like to inform you that lion attacketing elephant motif is very popular in indian art throug the ages.The image of BBC (dated 2006 ) wiht new technology is good , I know nothing about animal behevior.I like to take you attaention to the early images which are more natural .the antiquaty of the image goes back to 2 nd century A.D.I wish to publish the paper on these images .

  79. #79 Gloria
    July 30, 2010

    Just came back across this thread after awhile. Zach, to address your point about the lions going hungry without eating the elephant alive, Pearce says in his essay that in vitro meat could be made available.

    This is done now with food in many sanctuaries and nature parks (and of course zoos), where food is given to animals to supplement what they can find on their own and often help them adapt back to being in the wild after being raised in captivity. Since almost all these large predators are on their way to being ensconced within nature reserves or parks, and if every animal could be tracked within those parks, as many populations of wolves, elephants, etc. are today, it is not that difficult to foresee a time when this could be done. The jackal might even finally get enough food to not be perpetually hungry from having to scrounge the leftovers!