Humans are a frightening lot says a new study – even more so than other predators like bears, wolves and dogs.

The study by researchers at Western University says that small carnivores like badgers are more afraid of humans than their predators and these findings could have major implications in helping us understand the complex ecosystem and the impact we have on the animal kingdom. One startling find was that animals like badgers, foxes and raccoons exhibit greater levels of fear despite the fact that they have been living around humans for centuries.

Researchers say that fear of humans has a greater impact on the environment and this leads them to believe that this fear could be leaving a greater impression on ecosystem than expected. Researchers explain that carnivores help maintain healthy ecosystems by preventing smaller carnivores from eating everything in sight. However, because of decline in number of larger predators there is a threat to the overall ‘landscape of fear’.

The loss of this ‘landscape of fear’ adds to conservation concerns regarding the worldwide loss of large carnivores. Globally, humans now kill smaller carnivores at much higher rates than large carnivores do, and these results indicate that smaller carnivores have learned to fear the human ‘super predator’ far more than they fear their traditional enemies. Fear of humans has been proposed to act as a substitute, but these new results demonstrate that the fear of humans is qualitatively different and cannot be expected to fulfill the same ecosystem function.

The team conducted the study on Europeans badgers in Wytham Woods, just outside of Oxford (UK). To experimentally compare their relative fearfulness, the team played badgers the sounds of bears, wolves, dogs and humans in their natural habitat and filmed their responses, using hidden automated speakers and cameras. Whereas hearing bears and dogs had some effect, simply hearing the sound of people speaking, in conversation, or reading passages from books, prevented most badgers from feeding entirely, and dramatically reduced the time spent feeding by those few badgers that were brave enough to venture forth – while hearing the sound of the human ‘super predator.’

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