Fear of the human “super predator” pervades the South African savanna

Liana Y. Zanette, Nikita R. Frizzelle, Michael Clinchy, Michael J.S. Peel, Carson B. Keller, Sarah E. Huebner, Craig Packer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Lions have long been perceived as Africa's, if not the world's, most fearsome terrestrial predator,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 the “king of beasts”. Wildlife's fear of humans may, however, be far more powerful and all-prevailing1,10 as recent global surveys show that humans kill prey at much higher rates than other predators,10,11,12 due partly to technologies such as hunting with dogs or guns.11,13,14,15 We comprehensively experimentally tested whether wildlife's fear of humans exceeds even that of lions, by quantifying fear responses1 in the majority of carnivore and ungulate species (n = 19) inhabiting South Africa‘s Greater Kruger National Park (GKNP),9,15,16,17 using automated camera-speaker systems9,18 at waterholes during the dry season that broadcast playbacks of humans, lions, hunting sounds (dogs, gunshots) or non-predator controls (birds).9,19,20,21,22 Fear of humans significantly exceeded that of lions throughout the savanna mammal community. As a whole (n = 4,238 independent trials), wildlife were twice as likely to run (p < 0.001) and abandoned waterholes in 40% faster time (p < 0.001) in response to humans than to lions (or hunting sounds). Fully 95% of species ran more from humans than lions (significantly in giraffes, leopards, hyenas, zebras, kudu, warthog, and impala) or abandoned waterholes faster (significantly in rhinoceroses and elephants). Our results greatly strengthen the growing experimental evidence that wildlife worldwide fear the human “super predator” far more than other predators,1,19,20,21,22,23,24,25,26,27,28 and the very substantial fear of humans demonstrated can be expected to cause considerable ecological impacts,1,6,22,23,24,29,30,31,32,33,34,35 presenting challenges for tourism-dependent conservation,1,36,37 particularly in Africa,38,39 while providing new opportunities to protect some species.1,22,40

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4689-4696.e4
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 6 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Elsevier Inc.


  • anti-predator behavior
  • ecology of fear
  • ecotourism
  • endangered species
  • human impacts
  • large carnivores
  • predation risk
  • protected areas
  • wildlife conservation
  • wildlife tourism

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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