Animals adapt quickly to situations and with the increase in human impact on the environment certain species benefit from human involvement.
Hyenas, monkeys and baboons are known to become pests around lodges and campsites by raiding kitchens, dustbins and even breaking into vehicles in search of food. A garbage dump is easy pickings and this often leads to some animals becoming reliant on humans for their survival. Animals also learn survival skills when humans retaliate.
One of the most noteworthy examples of adaptation to human persecution is the black-backed jackal in South Africa. The jackal preys on the young of small stock on farms and is mercilessly persecuted and yet it still survives. Classified as a problem animal the jackal has adapted to a nocturnal and secretive existence evading even the most elaborate attempts at capture.
Of dinosaurs and new challenges
In history there have been major climatic and geographic changes that have occurred on earth. Why whole groups of species have gone extinct (such as dinosaurs) cannot be determined.
There is however growing consensus that there seems to have been a geomorphic change such as a major earthquake or a massive flood. Climatic change such as the ice age explains the extinction of other species. Sadly, Man has added to the ‘major change’ phenomenon.
Climatic and geomorphic changes are happening today, subtly changing the conditions on earth. What happens after these major events is that species would need to adapt to the new environment. Those that survive do so by adapting to the new challenges.
The nutritious southern plains of the Serengeti in Tanzania are the result of lava deposits from volcanic eruptions of Ngorongoro and surrounding volcanoes.
Rich soils were then deposited on the lava which in turn provided nutrients to shallow rooted plants such as grasses which are now the birthing grounds of the great migration.
Aerial photographs of northern Botswana show how the Okavango Delta has changed over time. The fossil floodplains indicate a once larger body of water and/or a shift in the location of the delta over time.
The incidents of termite mounds in areas of the permanent delta today indicate that at times the delta has experienced exceptionally dry periods. These factors will all have had an affect on the behaviour of animals at the time.
The Savuti system is an example of recent geomorphic change. Once part of the greater lake system that included the Okavango Delta and Makgadikgadi Pans the Savuti has experienced a great deal of recent change. The system today is dry, but it may start flowing again at any time.
In the past two hundred years the Savuti system has flowed and stopped four times for varying periods. It last flowed in 1981. When the channel flows it provides a lifeline for animals in the dry season but today vast herds gather on the nutrient plains of the Savuti Marsh in the wet season. This is an example of a recent geomorphic change that animals have had to adapt to.
Elephant killers: Evolution or old-fact?
We have our ideas as to how animals should behave but often exceptional behaviour occurs. Is this behaviour chance or a hidden trait from the past that has not been observed before by biologists? Is it a trait that arose under extreme climatic occurrences and then settled when conditions improved?
In the aforementioned Savuti there is a pride of lions that has adapted to killing adult elephants, behaviour that had never before been recorded. There were records of lions killing young, and ill elephants but to specialize in killing adults was unheard of.
Was this a chance development or merely the surfacing of a long-hidden ancestral trait? Could it simply be that the lions developed a liking for elephant meat from feeding on a carcass or killing a young one. Did they then develop their killing strategy over the seasons to eventually be confident enough to kill adult elephants? This theory shakes the romantic ideal of animal behaviour that is strived for by humans today!