Re: Large animal extinctions caused by early man

Stephen Barnard (
Sun, 30 Jun 1996 23:14:45 -0800

Bob Keeter wrote:
> Stephen Barnard <> wrote:
> >
> <Snipped my ramblings>
> >
> >One point of view that I've heard is that Pleistocene megafauna
> >survived in Africa because they had the opportunity to co-evolve with
> >humans. The Pleistocene fauna in the Americas, however, were clueless
> >and therefore vulnerable.
> >
> >I don't know whether it's true, but it's plausible.
> >
> In truth, I have to suggest that the megafauna had to evolve
> with far more dangerous predators that ancient man ever could
> hope to be. With the exception of the very largest proboscids
> I honestly would think that the big cats, wolves, and bears
> would have been more than adequate to drive the survivalist
> genes to the forefront! Given that, I cant imagine a mammoth,
> related to elephants and at least logically, a gregarious and
> relatively intelligent animal, could not make the association
> of a "new preditor on the block"!
> Considering the "mega-preditors" that were around, the mega-prey
> had better have had pretty sophistocated survival instincts, or
> they just plain would not have been around long enough to have
> been missed when they became extinct! A scrawny, nekkid hungry
> thing, without any canines or claws to mention, even if armed
> with funny stone-tipped spears and such just wasnt that scary!
> Realistically, lets suppose that mankind did make his way to the
> new world and _tried_ seriously to eat his way across a continent
> of walking zombie megafauna. If one of these roving bands took
> down a couple of medium sized mammoths, and if we allow them the skills
> of smoking or drying the meat, we're talking several thousand
> pounds of USDA prime mammoth burgers! Throw in just a bit from the
> "gatherers" and you can feed quite a few hungry nekkid little
> preditors for a long time.
> I seriously doubt that if the Mosai or Zulu of Africa developed
> a culture that fed exclusively off of elephant meet that they could
> have driven the elephant to extinction without guns and a lively
> ivory market! Even if the mammoths ran up and fell obligingly on
> your spear for you, a handful of nomadic hunter/gatherers is just
> not an extinction theat!
> Regards
> bk

IMHO, you seriously underestimate the effectiveness of organized human
hunters. Just to give a somewhat off-topic example, North American
aboriginals drastically changed the face of the continent through
deliberate burning. Another example is that North American
aboriginals killed huge numbers of bison by stampeeding them off
cliffs. They never exterminated the bison because they couldn't
without horses and firearms. The large, slow-moving Pleistocene
fauna, however, would have been very easy targets.

Human hunters -- even paleolithic hunters -- are a qualitatively
different phenomenon from any other predator.

Steve Barnard