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The consensus (1, 2) is that the reason most continents have relatively few large animals compared to Africa is that humans, even stone age humans, were able to drive them to extinction. African animals survived to some extent because they had time to adapt to us before he had decent weapons.

What could prevent an expanding human civilization from driving to extinction the megafauna in a newly-settled area?

For the scenario I have in mind, humans have early-Renaissance technology: iron and steel, some gunpowder arms, sophisticated governments with the ability to finance exploration and conquest in remote areas. Magic also exists, but I'd prefer not to handwave with "a wizard did it."

One simple answer is that these humans simply value large animals more than... any people historical ever have. Yet even if there's some interest in and understanding of ecology, it's hard to see how that could prevent hunters from knocking out the largest (and presumably slowest-breeding) animals like Elasmotherium.

Note that a few large animals did survive humans' arrival - bison, kangaroos, llamas. I'm looking for reasons why an area may plausibly retain a substantial quantity of large animals despite, say, a hundred years of very low density settlement (trappers, prospectors, a few trading towns) and another century or so of low density farming and hunting.

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Make megafauna that present no challenges whatsoever to humans and we will most likely not kill them. – DJMethaneMan Feb 25 at 16:31
Cows and horses are Megafauna. So are whales and european bufallo survived. Breeding or not sharing territory is obvious answer – Madlozoz Feb 25 at 17:06
@DJMethaneMan: surely anything with meat on it is at risk of being hunted, even if it's not dangerous to humans, their livestock, or their farms. – user243 Feb 25 at 18:03
I remember once asking my dad why no one eats crows. They're massive and everywhere and probably taste like chicken. He said it was because they eat trash, like rotting stuff and also actual garbage, so the meat isn't that great. Perhaps something(s) that is so closely associated with filth that we actually can't fathom the idea of eating them. Also, maybe something that requires a huge amount time or effort to make a small amount edible could work. – fractalspawn Feb 25 at 21:19
Religious prohibitions against consuming large animals ("Let us read now from the Book of Cookery, chapter twelve, verses 1 through 42: And then St. Julia said, 'Eat thou not of the meat of the animal which walketh upon the land, nor of the fish of the sea, nor yet even of the bird the flyeth upon the wing, which doth weigh more than thou, for the Lord doth love the largest beasts more, and so thou shalt be punished'. And sadly, Brother Wilbert has eaten of the mastodon. What is the punishment, brethren?" "COOK HIM! ROAST THE BARSTUD!!!!". "Very well, Wilbert - ketchup, or barbecue sauce?") – Bob Jarvis Feb 26 at 3:28
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Make them tastes bad. Make them mildly poisonous. So that people don't eat them all.

Make them non hostile. So that people don't hunt them to protect their communities.

Make them produce economically useful materials in a way that doesn't require their death. Perhaps their dung is the ultimate fertilizer, perhaps their hair/fleece makes the finest garments or their urine is a source of a useful drug or material. So that people want them alive near them on a continuous basis.

Make their hides/skins/organs/tissues that require their death to extract awful to work with or only useful for low quality work. So they don't get killed for their skin, teeth, bones etc

Make them breed reasonably fast. So they don't go the way of the panda.

Have them eat things which humans and their livestock don't normally eat. So they're not in competition with humans.

Make them trainable and friendly so that humans are likely to use them as work animals like giant dogs.

Give the humans a religious reverence for large animals. To make it socially taboo to harm them.

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A great fictionarl example of the "economically useful" type might be the Sandworms of Arrakis. The spice must flow! – glenatron Feb 26 at 13:49
  • Make them useful and easily domesticated. If the draft mammoth is more efficient than the draft horse, people will keep it around.
  • Make them useful in the wild and let people realize that. Perhaps the wild mammoth is the only thing to keep tyrannosaurs in check, yet harmless to people. To prevent mammoth-slaying by selfish hunters give them religious significance.
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I was going to do my own answer, but you've pretty much covered everything that I could say. I would only add that if it was a necessity that they remain wild instead of domesticated, then they could be made to be inedible, so there is no reason to hunt them for food. – Mike.C.Ford Feb 25 at 16:38
Point two looks good on paper but completely falls down as soon as you bring actual humans into the mix. See: bees, utterly critical to ecosystems the world over and effectively no threat to humanity, but almost completely wiped out by pesticides because we're a stupid, stupid, stupid species. Though you lampshaded that a bit with the religion idea. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 25 at 23:27
@PreferenceBean, that are the complications of modern life. 16th century technology would have to do more manual bee-stomping, not unintended side effects. – o.m. Feb 26 at 6:04
@PreferenceBean If a Renaissance-level civilization realizes the importance of a certain animal, they might have a different cultural disposition towards spreading poison in the environment and to environmental interference in general. – Chieron Feb 26 at 8:27


Humans thrive in any area where they are the uncontested apex predator. If a team of properly equipped humans can take down an area's biggest predator, then that predator and all of its prey, are on the short list for extinction. Second only to ice-ages and meteor strikes, we are the greatest extinction machines that our poor world has ever known.

So the answer to your question is, dragons! in Reign of Fire Dragons.

Add an apex predator that is so fast, so well armored, and so vicious, that no number of renaissance-level humans can win against even a single one.

The presence of a greater threat will unify the humans and all the other potential dragon prey, into an internally non-combative group; focused on their collective mutual survival.

Then after a few generations of cooperative peace between the animals and the humans, have the dragons fly away, to hunt in other lands.

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That makes a lot of sense, but it raises new questions, based around how an environment can support such a super-predator. – user243 Feb 25 at 18:04
@JonofAllTrades: With the predator having a comparatively slow metabolism. They spend most of their time in a low-energy state of hibernation, becoming more active to hunt or fight, but most of the time they don't need that. (See also: reef ecosystems, where a handful of laid-back sharks make up the majority of the biomass, and much faster-breeding life below them on the food chain keeps showing up to feed them.) – Mason Wheeler Feb 25 at 19:22
Now your question is: What can prevent moderately advanced megafauna from driving humans to extinction? – immibis Feb 25 at 19:34
How would the presence of dragons deter people from hunting elk? And in that movie, humanity was heading for extinction fast (at least in the first reel), which is not in keeping with the premise of the question. – Beta Feb 26 at 4:54
Even without banding together against the dragons, dragons make a great explanation for why megafauna would have high breeding rates. Historically, big animals had few predators and no compelling reason to breed quickly. If dragons are present, even things like mammoths would need a high breeding rate to keep up with predation, leading to populations which are much more resilient to human hunting. – ckersch May 8 at 17:59

The megafauna would need to not be worth making extinct. It really is that simple.

Have them not directly compete for resources (perhaps they live in inhospitable areas). Have them not worth hunting. No valuable tusks, not much meat or very bad tasting meat, even make them poisonous.

Imagine something like a poisonous tusk-less woolly mammoth (or just have a culture where tusks have no value). You can't eat it. It's dangerous to hunt. It spends a lot of time living in areas where humans don't want to.

To be honest just making them poisonous or really bad tasting herbivores would most likely be enough. (And poison that isn't easy to get rid of by just cooking them). Herbivores mean they aren't hunting humans. Poisonous means humans aren't hunting them.

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This is a good way to ensure a couple of species survive, but it's hard to imagine a whole ecology of tasteless furless tuskless animals, not even good for trophies. – user243 Feb 25 at 18:06
You could divide up these traits and spread them across a set of animals. Maybe the dog/cat/sheep sized ones taste bad, and live on cliffs like mountain goats, maybe the cow/horse/alligator sized ones are poisonous and only eat the dog/cat animals or are herbivores, and the larger elephant/girraffe ones have no horns or fur, or if they do, they decay or rot away quickly once separated from the live animal. They don't all have to be poisonous & furless & tusk-less & hard to catch. – fractalspawn Feb 25 at 21:15
@Fractalspawn: but an animal needs to be useless for it to be of no interest to hunters, and harmless for farmers to not kill them off. So every large animal would need to be poisonous, or at least unpalatable, and also have no useful body products, and also not be interesting to hunt for trophies, and must not eat farmers' crops, and must not feed on livestock. If it has any of these qualities, people will hunt them, at least opportunistically. – user243 Feb 25 at 21:27
@Jon: touché my friend. – fractalspawn Feb 25 at 21:32
@JonofAllTrades you raise a good point. A lot is going to depend on human population density. If human density is low enough then one of those traits would be enough to keep them alive. As human density rises it becomes harder and harder no matter what traits you give them. We're apex predators for a reason. We're the most vicious and deadly species on the planet. – Tim B Feb 25 at 21:35

World-wide spread Islam (or Judaism or any food annoying religion).

Hallal and Kasher rules do not really forbid hunting. But it makes it so unpractical that it almost doesn't occur (at least in Indonesia, where I am living).

If other religion still exist, believers could hunt for money (hence the elephant or rhino hunting occurring in Muslim countries). But if worldwide it would stop food-driven hunting.

Super-efficient vultures

If not in a fully controlled environment (a slaughter house) as soon as you kill an animal, swarms of scavengers (rodents, birds, flies... you choose) arrive and steal your kill. Making hunting impossible

Low human population

Because of wars, epidemic, world size (ringworld)

No overlapping

Obviously, megafauna survive in ocean because human dwells on land. In a highly different world, you can imagine human living underworld or in elevated cities (Ewok style or balloons)


Not literally as I can't imagine milking a wild T-Rex. But sperm whale poop is used to make perfume.

You can imagine a similar useful resource to be found in large mammal dung. Not too far fetched: it's the only fertilizer they know

This would means people wandering the countryside towing a cart and waiting for some diplodocus to have a shit :-)


In this world, human have deadly predator (giant eagle?). But this predator dare not approach something as big as a mammoth.

Animal heat

Extreme seismology make house building unpractical. The best way to survive a cold night is to curl next to a sleeping mammoth (who accepts you as you protect him from predator ... meaning you don't want those predators to get extinct)

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Honestly I think "low populations" may be the only realistic answer. Regarding super-scavengers, wouldn't such a phenomena make predatory animals impossible? – user243 Feb 25 at 18:08
@JonofAllTrades SF wise, the underground solution seems realistic to me – Madlozoz Feb 25 at 18:55
Just to point out - ambergris is not actually whale poop, although it may be excreted along with feces. However, it is actually a bile duct secretion which takes on a sweet/earthy scent over time. It used to be broadly used as a fixative in perfumes but nowadays synthetically produced chemicals are more common, although ambergris-containing perfumes can still be found. – Bob Jarvis Feb 26 at 3:35
What exactly does whale excrement have to do with milk again? (Because I definitely don't want that in my milk. – XandarTheZenon Feb 26 at 5:03
@XandarTheZenon any kind of animal product that doesn't involve killing the animal. (The difference between vegetarian and vegan) – Andrew Grimm Feb 26 at 8:30

I like to go with the simplest answer. Perhaps it's just a question of conscientiousness. We need other species in the world - we're not the kings of the planet. If we keep destroying everything everywhere, we'll end exiled, without other species, and we will basically plunge into self-extinction.

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Welcome to Worldbuilding Pablo! This doesn't seem like an answer; rather it seems as if you are simply sharing your opinion on this matter. If you want to share your opinion, feel free to comment below the original question. – fi12 Feb 26 at 3:00
I understood. Next time i won't make the same mistake. Thanks. – Pablo Costa Feb 26 at 3:01

The simplest way to prevent humans from driving megafauna to extinction is geography. Put some kind of big, fat wall* between the humans and the giant beasts, and have humans just not really that crazy to go there. Suppose that on the American continent, there was a tree that killed off humans by poison. All the Megafauna became immune. Humans have not as yet felt the need to conquer America. Since the explorers never got back, maybe they don't even know it exists.

*Obviously, this would not be a literal wall, but a natural barrier, unless there was a super civilization that wanted to preserve the megafauna. In that case, it's still all about the barrier, but not really. Then we need to know why the megafauna is desired.

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