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LONDON, Ontario — Which species is the most feared in the animal kingdom? It turns out they aren’t animals at all — it’s humans. A new study is adding stunning evidence that animals around the world are more terrified of humans than they are of any other species in nature. In fact, researchers found that just the sound of humans talking is enough to send wildlife into a panic.

An international team traveled to Australia to see local wildlife react to some of nature’s most fearsome predators. Since the country lacks large carnivores such as lions and wolves, studies have shown that local marsupials like kangaroos and wallabies haven’t developed the same level of fear for dogs and other predator species. However, these observations never took into account marsupials’ experience with the ultimate “super predator” — mankind.

Researchers from Western University and the University of Tasmania note that after 50,000 years, kangaroos and wallabies have learned to flee as soon as they hear humans enter their habitats. In their new experiment, they proved this by exposing local marsupials to the terrifying sounds of wild dogs barking and Tasmanian devils snarling. When these sounds barely startled groups of kangaroos, the team then played another recording of people talking calmly. The sound immediately sent the animals running for safety.

According to the findings in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, kangaroos, wallabies, and other marsupials were 2.4 times more likely to run away from human voices compared to all other predators. Simply put, Australian wildlife knew what humans sounded like and knew enough to fear them.

poacher face to face with rhino
A new study is adding stunning evidence that animals around the world are more terrified of humans than they are of any other species in nature. (© mezzotint_fotolia –

“These results greatly expand the growing experimental evidence that wildlife worldwide perceive humans as the planet’s most frightening predator,” says Western biology professor Liana Zanette in a university release. “The very substantial fear of humans demonstrated here, and in comparable recent experiments, can be expected to have dramatic ecological consequences, because other new research has established that fear itself can reduce wildlife numbers, and fear of humans can cause cascading impacts on multiple species throughout entire landscapes.”

The team notes that these animals didn’t actually see humans or any other predators during the experiment. Researchers planted cameras and speakers roughly 30 feet away from local marsupials. Along with humans talking and local predators barking and snarling, the team also played a control sound of sheep bleating. Just like the wolves and Tasmanian devils, marsupials generally ignored the sheep noises.

“Global surveys show humans kill prey at much higher rates than other predators, making humans a ‘super predator,’ and the profound fear of humans being revealed in wildlife everywhere is wholly consistent with humanity’s unique lethality,” Zanette says. “Humans are ‘the invisible killer’ insofar as we do not often think of ourselves as a major predator, let alone the most dangerous, but wildlife clearly think differently – and recognize us for what we are.”

The findings are just the latest evidence that humans have become a universally feared species on Earth. Last year, Prof. Zanette and researchers made similar findings in South Africa. In that study, over 20 different species clearly displayed more fear of people than the most terrifying big cats on the continent.

See the full experiment here

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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