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Antelopes & People

September 18, 2008

When wild animals are exposed to people, do they become more vulnerable to predators?

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):
When antelopes meet people….I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Wildlife biologists have long assumed that exposing wild animals to humans, also known as habituation, makes them less vigilant against predators. But behavioral ecologists Dan Blumstein and Andrea Coleman of UCLA put that assumption the test. Their team compared the response of an African antelope called the dik-dik to recordings of predatory jackals and harmless birds.

DAN BLUMSTEIN (UCLA):
What we found was dik-diks living near people // discriminated predators from non-predators // so they weren’t getting dumb by listening to people.

HIRSHON:
On the other hand, animals that lived far from people were so distracted by the researchers that they jumped at any sound—even the sound of the harmless birds. Blumstein says this suggests that habituation may not be such a bad thing after all. And surprising naïve animals with human contact could actually make them even more vulnerable to predation. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.