Posts Tagged ‘megafauna’

Extinctions

June 5, 2016
American Megafauna Gone Extinct In the Last 20,000 Years. Arctodus Primus, Megatherium, Smilodon. For the scale, the whitish American Lion is 30% larger than today's African lions.

American Megafauna Gone Extinct In the Last 20,000 Years. Arctodus Primus, Megatherium, Smilodon. For the scale, the whitish American Lion is 30% larger than today’s African lions.

A characteristic of today’s biosphere is that most wild megafauna has gone extinct. The culprit is Homo Sapiens in general, and civilization made the situation worse. However, 40 years ago, if one suggested human beings had annihilated the megafauna, one was viewed as unbalanced, unscientific, a conspiracy theorist, grandiloquent, megalomaniac, etc.

Nowadays, though, detailed chronologies have shown that, indeed Homo Sapiens caused many extinctions. I hold that Homo Sapiens caused directly most extinctions of the last 100,000 years. And, indirectly, the rest.

Some have held out against this global extinction theory. They brandish the case of Africa, where the megafauna had survived until recently.

I will presently extinguish this effrontery. Africa is extremely hard to penetrate. The African tropical forest is much darker than the darkest cathedral. The sahelian and subsahelian zone are crisscrossed by “forest gallery”, along the countless streams. Forest gallery is extremely dark, thick, full of dangers, from nasty predators to tsetse flies. Thus, to go ten kilometers in Africa is extremely hard. The streams, when any, are dangerous to navigate, from mosquitoes, to crocodiles, to man-eating, blinding worms. Forest galleries provided shelter to predators, including lions.

(Once I walked next to a lion, 2 or 3 meters away in a very thick thicket, when approaching, precisely, a river, in a sandy, open area; because of the openness, we did not pay attention to the thicket. What was a lion, we guessed, because we did not really see it, jumped away to great sound and fury; the point is that nobody in my party suspect a lion was indulging in a siesta in such a place.)

Moreover, in Africa, animals were in contact with men, for millions of years. So they evolved their own cultures, transmitting it to their children. It’s not just a matter of fearing man and running away (because a fleeing animal could run into other animals, or other men). A culture to live alongside human beings required mutual respect.

Lions, hyenas and even leopards know very well who men and their children are. They act accordingly, in general, except in exceptional cases.

I have given sugar to enormous jumping wild African dogs; I would throw the sugar up in the air, and the dogs would catch it at an extravagant height, with an impressive metallic snapping of jaws. Any other animals, those dogs would take down. Wild hyenas have also accepted to be hand fed by human beings. Hyenas’ relations with other animals are extremely adverse. Their jaws are feared by lions and dogs alike. The same is true with cheetahs: they readily domesticate. I have sat, as a ten-year old, in the back of cars with cheetahs larger than me. Cheetahs can take down a huge impala in a second, but they don’t attack people.

So this is something I noticed in the wilds of Africa, again and again: the most ferocious representatives of the megafauna there , know very well who human beings are. They will not just think twice before attacking a human child: generally, they will not do it. One does not attack the gods, if one is a well-educated, normally behaved member of the African megafauna.

In the Americas, as human beings swept in, fast, lethally, and suddenly, mutual respect cultures could not evolve: archeology shows that it would take at most 300 years for human beings to kill the entire megafauna of a region. In Eurasia, there are giant killing grounds of horses, mammoths, etc: this means human beings killed animals there, for thousands of years. There are no such places in the Americas.

So human beings did it: they exterminated the megafauna. That’s not just a fact, it’s a warning. First the megafauna, now the rest of the biosphere?

Patrice Ayme’