Behavioural ecologist, Bill Bateman, and wildlife biologist, Trish Fleming, teamed up to research how human environments and structures can provide a hunting advantage to certain predators.
If you have ever been to a nature reserve in Africa, you may have been lucky enough to see a predator take down its prey. Chances are, you got to see that because the predators killed the prey right on the road where you could get up close in your safari vehicle.
But what if this wasn’t just luck? What if lions had greater hunting success along a road because buffalos lose their footing on the tarmac, thus becoming a meal? The road – a human intrusion in a natural world – could be increasing the lion’s hunting success.
This intriguing idea led us to wonder if there were other examples where human structures or environments might benefit predators. Here are 10 other examples we came across:
1. African wild dogs take down larger prey when they chase them into fences.
2. European kestrels ambush bats and swifts as they leave their roosts in building ventilation.
3. Sea lions travel 100km up the Columbia River to hunt masses of migrating salmon that gather at the Bonneville Dam fish ladders (fish ladders are structures that help fish go over or around dams).
4. Horse-eye jack fish ambush prey around dock pilings or other structures that interrupt the synchronised escape behaviour of the fish schools.
5. Peregrine falcons in New York City hunt at night when they have more success catching pigeons that are bedazzled by skyscraper lights.
Even the smallest human changes to an ecosystem can make prey animals more vulnerable, and affect a whole landscape.
6. Lions have associated the sound of cowbells with cows.
7. Wedge-tailed eagles follow harvesters on farms to catch animals flushed out by the machinery.
8. Ravens perch atop very tall highway lamp posts to predate on desert tortoises in environments where tall trees do not grow naturally.
9. The green heron uses human litter to lure fish.
10. Red foxes have learned to wait at road underpass exits for a meal delivery.
We need to carefully consider how we influence our environment, and be on the lookout for instances where predators are benefiting from the presence of humans. Even the smallest human changes to an ecosystem can make prey animals more vulnerable, and affect a whole landscape.