If I could Live in the Pleistocene Part VI–Top 10 Most Dangerous Animals to Avoid

So it’s 36,000 BP, and I’m living in my adobe brick house/mansion/castle,  built on a picturesque spot located 2 miles west of what’s now the Savannah River and 1 mile north of the Broad River.  A time tunnel connects me to the present in case of emergencies, but otherwise I’m living in an area of the world where there are no other people.  In today’s world the only dangerous animals I’m likely to encounter are other humans and their dogs.  Gangsters, twisted bullies, or psychos could assault me at any time, but I lower the risk by staying away from low income neighborhoods.  Dogs are the only other animal to be wary of.  A few years back, I had a neighbor who was freaked out because he saw a rattlesnake which he killed by driving over it.  After this incident he seemed annoyed at me–I had let my garden get a little weedy and he spotted a corn snake in it.  Yet, this snake-phobic honcho always let his pit bull terrier run loose.  Luckily for me, it was only aggressive when I was behind the fence.  It would charge and snarl at me as long as I was in my backyard, but when I went to get the mail the nasty canine would retreat and yelp in terror.  In my Pleistocene world though I have no human neighbors and no pit bulls to worry about.  Instead, there is the megafauna.

Skull of an australopithecus and mandible of a leopard.  A leopard apparently killed this hominid.  The skull has canine marks matching those of a leopard. Big cats hunt apes by attacking them directly from behind.  Man-eating tigers are notorious for attacking humans using this tactic.  It’s an intelligent strategy.  Even a man with a gun would be killed easily.  He’d have no chance to use his weapon.

The walls of my Pleistocene adobe home consist of a double layer of the fat dried bricks.  The windows are high off the ground and have steel bars over them.  I feel safe inside.  I doubt any predator would waste energy trying to dig through the walls.  Likewise, my yard with livestock, a garden, grainfields, and a fruit orchard is surrounded by a high wall designed to make it difficult for animals to climb over.  A safety problem arises, however, when I choose to make forays outside of my fortress.  I use a steamroller to maintain a 3 mile dirt road between the Broad River and a chestnut ridge.  I attend fish traps, and I like to take boat rides.  And I survey plants and animals for scientific data.  These activities take me into the danger zone.  I’d definitely be carrying a Glock.  Here are the top 10 most dangerous Pleistocene animals in this region that would keep me on the alert.

1-4.  The big cats concern me the most.  4 of them are tied for first place–saber-tooths (Smilodon fatalis), scimitar-tooths (Dinobastis serum), giant panthers (Panthera atrox), and jaguars (Panthera onca augusta).  A big cat could sneak up on me and jump on my back before I even knew it was there.  I would have no chance to draw my gun or retreat to my vehicle.  In India tigers learn to kill people by coming at them from directly behind.  Some natives wear masks on the back of their heads–a tactic that confuses man-eating tigers and prevents attacks.  An attack from behind would mean instant death.  Pleistocene big cats in southeastern North America have not yet learned to fear man and might be more likely to attack than not.

5. I rank cougars (Puma concolor) behind the other big cats.  Pleistocene cougars were on average 5% larger than modern cougars and probably considerably bolder, but still they’re a smaller cat that I might be able to box off me, giving me a chance to use my gun.  Nevertheless, if one attacks me from directly behind, I’m in trouble.  This rear-attacking tactic may be learned.  Maybe naive Pleistocene cats would attack humans from the front.  I can only hope this is the case.

Photos from google images of elephants running amok.  The man in the bottom image was killed by that elephant calf.

6-7.  Mastodons (Mammut american) and mammoths (Mammuthus colombi) are in a tie for 6th place.  I believe proboscideans unaccostomed to people would be peaceful animals unless protecting young–a situation easily avoided.  However, when male proboscideans become ready to mate, they go berserk, attacking everything in sight, including other elephants, rhinos, and people.  Even male elephants kept in captivity often go amok.  Although I can see an animal this large approaching, a Glock might be an impotent weapon.  A gunshot might just infuriate it more.  And the great beast could overturn my vehicle, if I manage to escape inside.

I wouldn’t want to face an angry herd of bovines.

8. Long-horned bison (Bison latifrons) were likely very aggressive animals–an adaptive behavioral response to an environment populated with lots of predators.  I should be able to see them from a distance and avoid them.  However, I enjoy eating steaks, roasts, hamburgers, and chili.  If a bison wandered near my adobe home, I might want to shoot it for the meat.  Its companions might hang around or return to protect the carcass.

9. Both black bears (Ursus americanus) and giant short-faced bears (Arctodus simus) could be trouble.  I should be able to avoid these clumsy, noisy animals, but I better be on the lookout.  A gunshot would probably just piss the thick monsters off.

10.  Dire wolves didn’t use stealth, so I think I can avoid a wolf pack.  I wouldn’t want one, let alone a pack, of these hard-biting brutes to get between me and my vehicle.  I’m certain they’d have no fear of a man.  They didn’t learn to fear men until it was too late.

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8 Responses to “If I could Live in the Pleistocene Part VI–Top 10 Most Dangerous Animals to Avoid”

  1. Mark L. Says:

    Fireworks (i.e. black cats) might work very well on numbers 1-5. I’m curious to know how many jaguar attacks (unprovoked) you know of that have been documented in history. They really want nothing to do with us (other than see how we hunt), and even the cougars could be argued to not be much of a threat if they are in the southeast part of NA (and subspecies is arguably less likely to attack humans). The giant short faced bear scares me like no other, as its faster than me, could kick my ass while smiling, and probably wouldn’t back down to anything edible.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    Pleistocene jaguars may have had different behavior patterns. They may attack humans less frequently now because they’ve learned to avoid people.

    Here’s a link for cougar attack statistics on people. It only goes up to 2003. Cougar attacks have been on the increase since then. http://tchester.org/sgm/lists/lion_attacks.html

  3. James Robert Smith Says:

    A bigger danger would be the enormous swarms of mosquitoes uncontrolled by the draining of wetlands and the spread of farms. You’d have a horrible time with those, plus the deerflies and horseflies.

    Also, the boat rides down the river would be problematic. I’ve seen what medium-sized rivers look like that don’t have men clearing them out constantly. For the most part, they’re impassable by just about anything but a small canoe or kayak. And even with those you’d be hopping out quite often to portage around enormous blockades of debris.

    But you’d be high on any list of the predators that you mention. Short-faced bears were likely more graceful than modern bears, with those long legs. But even all modern bears are excellent runners and don’t actually qualify as anything remotely what I would consider clumsy. However, with the exception of short-faced bears (which are all gone) and polar bears (which have never lived in the South), they’re not generally stalkers.

    The smartest of the bunch would be the wolves. You might have some problems there if they picked you out as something good to eat.

    And you certainly don’t want to piss off any kind of elephant.

  4. markgelbart Says:

    Unless they carried malaria or yellow fever, mosquitoes would be more of an uncomfortable nuisance rather than a danger. The climate was a bit cooler and drier than today and winters were a little longer. Mosquitoes would be absent for at least part of the year.

    A future blog entry will be about the salt marsh mosquito. People use to witness great clouds of these insects.

    Black bears do stalk people rarely. There’s a difference in the way people are supposed to respond to bear attacks. If a grizzly attacks, experts recommend for the person to play dead because it’s probably just protecting its cubs. If a black bear attacks, experts say fight back…it wants to eat you.

  5. James Robert Smith Says:

    I’ve had a number of uncomfortable experiences with black bears in my outdoor adventures. One of them quite dangerous–we thought we were going to be killed. And no matter what you read in any official paper on black bears…they can indeed roar. Just because no biologist has experienced it doesn’t make it so. The sound penetrated into our bones. It was quite horrifying.

    I watched a black bear casually lift an enormous boulder at the Peck’s Corner shelter in the Great Smokies to get at some tuna fish juice an idiot had dripped onto the ground. The boulder must have weighed a thousand pounds and he levered it up with one paw as if it were all but weightless. When he’d finished licking up the juice from the side of the boulder, he let it fall back into place–we could feel the ground shake when he let go of it (we were fortunately inside the shelter behind chain link). He then made a few half-hearted efforts to push in the chain link barrier. Raised up on his hind legs, placed his forepaws on the chain link and pushed, grunting each time as he did so. He gave up after a couple of half-hearted attempts. I’ve always recalled his scarred face peering in at us. He circled the shelter a few times, then ran off into the forest when a momma bear and three cubs came up–and then they ran off when they detected the boar’s scent without making it all of the way up to the shelter.

    Lots of other dicey black bear encounters in my travels. The only griz I’ve seen on one of my hikes took off as soon as he saw us. He wanted nothing whatsoever to do with us.

  6. markgelbart Says:

    I found the sound of a black bear roaring on youtube.

  7. J. Says:

    What about the American cheetah?

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