Did the Afarensis have a true predator ? (was aquatic ape

J de Lyser (gd33463@glo.be)
Tue, 21 Jan 1997 13:54:38 +0100

I had just given up on finding the missing afarensis predator, when someone
reminded me of an Australopithicene skull with holes in it, which suggested
a cat like ancestor. It gave me new motivation to find this 'Acinonyx
Anonymous' :-) As i think it's important to know what the capabilities of
this predator were, as it was being compared to Lions Cheetahs and other
modern maneaters. Where Afarensis was being portrayed as a defenseless 'chimp'.

I've finished a night of searching data on the possibility of this species
of Acinonyx which might have been this 'missing predator'. Everywhere i
looked for the big cats, (the zoologist) data showed that they only
developed 3mln years ago. A paleontologist suggested a Leopard !(a panthera
species which could have impossibly been there around lucys time !) All
other primate data resources mentioned predators, but the serious ones
without identifying those predators, the less serious ones mistook the early
(civet)hyeanids for modern hyeanas or (like John and michael) suggested
lions, cheetah etc.

I've been told that the problem seems to be the fossil record. The same
little gap in the record that is blurring the origin of man, seems to be
blurring that of a lot of ancestors of other species. Their must have been a
civet like large cat around that could have hunted Australopitheces, but the
data on what it's characteristics were runs pretty scarce. (i'm sure the
beast has a name, but if i couldn't even find the name of it, i'm sure other
details about it will be even harder to find,... if such data exists.) What
concerned me most though is that the paleontologist data i read (+ the one i
communicated with!) didn't even know the name of the creature, i was
dumbfounded about the ease with which they desribed it as a 'leopard' or a
'lion', assuming it had the characteristics of a modern big cat, being not
one or two million years off, but two or three !

The zoology data on the other hand refers to the early cats and other
predators as being in a transitional phase. It shows a possible ancestor to
Acinonyx (older than 3 million years ago) as being more alike to the civet
(hyeana/cat) ancestor than to a modern lion.

In any case, there probably was a large predator, who knows, maybe even one
with the physical capabilities that come close to those of a modern lion or
leopard. It is feasible as some pre-fatalis Smilodon may have come close to
those capabilities as well. Point is that there is no real data, so
basically there is:

-a small chance this african big proto-cat was just as big (bigger seems to
be unrealistic), but just as stupid as the smilodon species (more stupid
seems also unrealistic)

-a slightly bigger chance this cat was just as big, but slightly smarter.

-a fairly big chance this cat was slightly smaller, but also slightly smarter

So what we have is a transitional (civet to cat) big predator, about the
size of a cheetah, with the brains slightly larger than that of smilodon
(the most stupid cat to ever roam the earth) When John Clarke compares
Afarensis to a chimp, he is forgetting that Afarensis was very likely to be
the most intelligent species that existed at its time.

At least i have tried to establish somewhat of a profile on this possible
predator, i hope that it's appreciated compared to the generalizations made
between prehistoric predators and modern maneaters on one hand, and
Afarensis and chimps on the other.

What kind of risk could this predator have posed to afarensis ? (this is
where i'm going to use some comparison, but not like John and Michael did,
placing modern cheetahs and afarensis in the same example!)

example 1: modern man against modern maneater
- - - - - - - - - - -
> Vacationers kill mountain lion
> DOS RIOS, Calif., Aug. 16 (UPI) -- Two couples vacationing in a remote cabin
>in northern California told Fish and Game wardens Tuesday they had killed a
>mountain lion that attacked their dog and then one of the women.
> Fish and Game Department spokesman Brian Hunter said the four people were
>awakened about 4:30 a.m. by a commotion outside the cabin. They went
outside and
>found their large collie fighting with a lion. The lion ran under the cabin and
>the dog ran off.
> The people told Fish and Game they picked up a shovel, a hatchet and a
>kitchen knife and tried to scare the animal out from under the cabin. While the
>lion stayed put, the couples started a fire and were standing near it when the
>lion ran out from beneath the cabin and attacked one of the women. The rest of
>the people jumped on the cat and when the battle was over, the lion lay
dead and
>one of the men had had a thumb bitten off.
> The couples had to hike a mile, cross a river and use a four-wheel drive
>vehicle to get to the nearest hospital at Willits. They were treated for mostly
>minor injuries, but the amputated thumb could not be reattached.
> The body of the lion, a 50-60 pound female, was taken to Sacramento for a
> The incident happened in Mendocino County, which has one of the highest
>densities of mountain lions in California because of the abundance of deer and
>other prey.

- - - - - - - - - -

This example shows two human couples against a young female lion. although
it may not have ended similar in the case of an adult male lion against four
humans, it's a perfect example of group protection, and shows that our
species is agressive. Given the proper human numbers an adult male lion
would think twice about attacking this group of humans. Lions by the way
(correction to my earlier posts) do NOT hunt in packs, they live in packs,
but hunt alone. (Lions are also not called a 'pack', i think)

example two: Modern chimp against Modern leopard.

- - - - - - - - - -

>***** How chimpanzees react to predators *******************************
In fact, predation is not much of a problem overall for chimps, which might
seem odd until you look at what you face when you face a chimp.What you face
is not. just a chimp, but a group of chimps. A group of strong, howling,
stick and/or rock throwing gang of vicious little hominoids. They kill
baboons and leopard cubs (with leopard-mommy present) with no more armament
or natural ability than australopithecines had. In fact, even lone chimps
have been seen sleeping overnight on the ground in areas frequented by
leopards, which further suggests that they don't have much trouble with such
predators. What we see when we look at predation on chimpanzees, those
animals so similar in size and intelligence to our early ancestors, is that
they have more severe problems (ie. they get killed) with leopards in more
heavily forested areas. In more open wooded savannah they show little
concern with leopards. Perhaps Adrian Kortlandt's experiments during the
1960s would give us a clue as to why this is: During the 1960s Dr.
Kortlandt, a Dutch researcher, did a number of experiments with wild
chimpanzees in natural populations in Africa. One of these was to see how
different populations of chimps react to predators. To do this, he used a
stuffed leopard dummy with electrically moveable head and tail. A baby
chimpanzee doll was placed in the leopard's front paws and the dummy was
placed where it would been countered by mixed groups of chimpanzees,
including females with young, in all the experiments. Several populations of
chimpanzees were sotested several times, including groups in two different
jungle areas,and a group of savannah woodland chimpanzees. All the chimp
groups reacted by picking up sticks as clubs, breaking small trees and
treelimbs to use as clubs, and throwing these at the leopard dummy. An
interesting difference emerged between the jungle chimps and thesavannah
chimps. The jungle chimps, while aggressive toward theleopard, were
uncoordinated in their attacks and when throwing objects,never actually hit
the leopard. Dr. Kortlandt observed:"The results with savannah chimpanzees,
however, were quite different. They grabbed the largest of the available
clubs, which was 2.10 m long,and they tore down small trees of about the
same length; they slashed viciously at the leopard with these. With the aid
of the film we made, we could measure impact velocities of approximately 90
km/h, which would have been sufficient to break the back of a live leopard.
In addition, there was teamwork in evidence during these attacks, again in
contrast to what we observed in the jungle chimpanzees. During the final
attack the dummy was encircled by five chimpanzees, while two others stood
in readiness at some distance, in case they should be needed. Then the
leader grabbed the tail of the leopard and ran away, tossing the predator so
that the head flew from the body."With that, the enemy was considered 'dead'.

>"A side effect of the experiment was the observation that the savannah
chimpanzees more often walked erect than do the jungle chimpanzees.

--> then there's some examples of chimps boasting (screaming) at lions and
more stick throwing at leopards. <--

>Then there was that leopard den. A band of chimps went over to aleopard den
(sounds like "a gorilla walked into a bar..."), well, they really did (if I
remember the time and place correctly it was at Mahalein 1982) and started
screaming up a storm outside the den. This chimpgroup included not only
adult males, but also females and young. From the sounds inside, the
researchers observing this determined the mother leopard was inside at the
time (but they didn't crawl in and check forsome reason ;-). A couple of
male chimps did, however, and dragged out one of the leopard's babies and
beat it to death. Chimpanzees are not so afraid of large cats as we might
reasonably suppose them to be. (That's understatement, in case you
don'trecognize it.)
- - - - - - - - - - - - -

I think this example takes care of the 'defenseless' chimp myth ?

If chimps can handle modern big cats, it seems very logical that afarensis
and other hominids were able to handle more primitive versions of those cats
in quite similar, maybe even more effective ways. Even if afarensis was LESS
intelligent than modern chimps. (which i don't assume 48-46 chromosomes
etc.., but nothing is impossible..)

If a chimp can do this to a leopard, Imagine what afarensis could do to
Acinonyx or a fox sized proto hyeanid !

to summon up:

Afarensis lived 3.7 - 2.8 million years ago, (data varies, from 5-2 million yrs)
Acinonyx started to appear 3 mln years ago.

Proto hyenids (desc from civet) in this period were fox sized and very
probably still solitary hunters.
Smilodon and dog-bear species didn't live in africa.

That's 200.000 yrs of possible conflict between an afarensis who is not the
helpless chimp he is portrayed to be, and who at this time had the
intellignce large enough to become homo habilis in 200.000 yrs, mathed with
a species of Acinonyx, a most likely cheetah sized cat, who very probably
didn't match ANY of our modern big cats in intelligence.

Only AFTER homo habilis started to appear (who used tools, spears, hand axes
etc) came the genera of Panthera: Atrox (pre-lions), Leopards and Tigers.

Hope this organized/cleared things up a little, at least it was my first
real posting of volume :-)

J. de Lyser