Predators, primates and humans in a landscape of fear

By Dr. Russell Hill

Dr. Russell Hill tells us about his recent activities in Lajuma, Soutpansburg Mountains, South Africa.

He was stationed in a permanent field station here which he called the ‘Anthropology department’, here he worked with up to 14 other researchers.

LajumaThere were 3 main objectives for Russell and his team;

  • To understand behavioural ecology of predator-prey interactions
  • To assess the role of geographical features such as the local mountain ranges
  • To evaluate the nature and extent of the human-wildlife conflict that had been occurring in that area.

Russell then went on to talk about the lethal versus non-lethal effects of predation. He mentioned that risk effects are hard to quantify but spatial variation of predators and prey in relation to predation risk is one of the most important drivers of non-lethal effects.

To quote Russell ‘Animals live in a landscape of fear’, from this he discusses vervet

vervet monkey
Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus)

monkey landscapes of fear. Vervet monkeys allocate specific calls to various predators, raising the alarm to an oncoming predator and allowing other vervets to escape. Russell and his team found that fear of some (not all) predators effected spatial distribution of these animals. The presence of baboons and leopards revealed the strongest predictor of possible distribution of vervet monkeys.

Russell also investigated landscapes with multiple predators and prey to assess arboreal species versus terrestrial species. Predation was also a key driver in predator-prey distribution within this landscape. Surprisingly, it was found that prey would be more influenced by the presence of a predator than the risk of starvation when proposed with the two.

samango monkey
Samango Monkey (Cercopithecus albogularis)

Russell and his team conducted an experiment on samango monkeys, they provided food rewards at varying heights and discovered that the monkeys took more food and felt safer on the ground with the presence of humans rather than without. Jokingly he mentions the problems encountered while attempting to capture and re-capture these monkeys as they recognized each trap after falling victim to it previously.

The last few slides of Russell’s seminar focused on his recent involvement in the Limpopo leopard project also in Soutpansberg, collecting leopard ranging and grouping data to create leopard suitability maps.

African Leopard (Panthera pardus pardus)

They used mark and recapture methods to calculate this range. Leopards are in danger of extinction as humans push more and more into their habitats, to counter-act the leopard’s attacks on livestock, farmers have constructed predator-proof fencing, incorporating guard dogs into livestock herds and setting up snares that trap and usually injure the leopard.

The breeding of high value game animals such as;

  • Blonde impala
  • Blonde wildebeest
  • Sable antelope

Draw starving leopards to an ‘easy’ meal. These are all contributing factors to the altering of leopard landscapes.

leopard 2
Leopard that has taken advantage of the ‘easy meals’

Dr. Russell finished off his lecture by adding that landscapes of fear offer valuable approaches to understanding predator-prey relationships and interactions.

My Opinion

It is interesting to learn about the effects of fear on animals and how fear of predation can be a confounding factor that effects all aspects of life. This was my favourite seminar as it preyed on my interest in animal psychology. When we realise that animals may display emotions, it could completely change the way we view and interact with them. Russell here talks here about how animals fear their predators, although it may just be humans labeling it was fear whereas it could just be a much more simplistic reaction to a possible threat to life.

Thanks for reading,




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