The Background

On a single fairly sizeable continent live two intelligent species. Regular humans, and a species of intelligent wolf-people.

The latter aren't actually descended from wolves, but a wolf-like social plains carnivore. Think carnivorous wolf-baboons. They're every bit as intelligent as humans, and have retained opposable thumbs from their ancient arboreal ancestry allowing for advanced tool use.

In order to answer the question, we'll take snapshots of 3 time periods in technological development. The first is pre-historic hunter-gatherer stone-age (or early pottery-age, which should definitely be a separate time period as far as I'm concerned). The second is classical antiquity (so established agriculture for humans allowing a sizeable population, but iron-age technology). The third is early-industrial (pike-and-shot era).

The principle difference between humans and our wolf-baboon people is that the latter evolved as hypercarnivores (>70% of diet consists of meat).

Prior Research

My research so far has led me here, here, and here.

What I've learnt from this is that societies of hypercarnivores would likely be massively outclassed by us as soon as we discover agriculture, allowing us to sustain a (relatively) stable, sizeable population and overwhelm them with a tide of numerous unhealthy mooks. Reason being that dependency on meat is less efficient at supporting a large population than agriculture, and more prone to population crashes as game reserves are depleted.

It's also suggested that the early sizeable populations of an intelligent hypercarnivore would likely develop around coastal fishing communities as the sea is both a larger and more stable source of protein than land. The likely early spread of hypercarnivore populations will be sizeable coastal settlements and interior pastoralists (most likely similar to steppe-nomads or plains native americans). The pastoralists will probably pretty quickly domesticate prey-species and develop animal husbandry.

The Question

So, the question would be, what tweaks would we need to make to our hypercarnivores (either biologically or socio-culturally) to allow them to compete with regular humans in each of the three time-periods mentioned earlier?

The first thing I was thinking is that our intelligent wolf-baboons will need to secure a source of protein that keeps their livestock alive. Eggs might be a great source, as could bloodletting. I'd also expect adult milk tolerance might be a significant enough advantage to allow it to spread throughout the population.

The second thing I was thinking is that hypercarnivore doesn't necessarily mean obligate carnivore. By definition, up to 30% of their diet can be plant-based, allowing for limited agriculture. My prior research into hypercarnivore plant-eating has shown two things:

  1. Hypercarnivores often eat fruit and tubors to supplement their diet.
  2. A lot of well-meaning dog owners are subjecting their pets to vegetarian diets with little empirical evidence to support them.

This means that potentially our hypercarnivore species may yet develop limited agriculture, and potentially gravitate towards more of a mesocarnivorous diet in their own version of the agricultural revolution.

So, do you think these tweaks would be sufficient to allow our hypercarnivores to compete with humanity, and which additional tweaks might be made that allow them to do so better?

Any questions, or if it's too broad, please let me know!

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    $\begingroup$ Plain boring regular wolves competed quite successfully with humans in pre-modern times. Humans did not succeed in eradicating wolves until well after the pike and shot era, and even then only on limited territores; in Central and Eastern Europe we never succeeded in killing all the wolves, and now of course we have stopped trying. Russia and Canada were never even close of killing all their wolves. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ So that's the neolithic era sorted ok then, but the difficulty starts to occur when humans develop agriculture allowing them to sustain large populations. Wolves might not exactly be eradicated, but we're hardly hearing of armies of wolves pouring out of the steppe like mongols, sweeping civilisation before them. Largely they get pushed out of prime locations into more inhospitable ones, like any situation where a predator is outcompeted (or for that matter when a human culture is outcompeted). $\endgroup$ Commented May 14, 2018 at 13:23
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    $\begingroup$ I f those two species evolved simultaniously, it's hard for me to imagine that humans would have established their dominance similar to our actual history. being #1 in brains made us win, but with others as smart as us trying to eat us while being able to develop an answer to all our weaponry...would humans actually get to the point where the advantage of agricultural sustainment pays off? if we were the most dangerous enemy to the wolf-baboons, and they were anything like us, we'd be exterminated or kept in 40x160cm boxes by the millions: the base ingredient to their protein shakes. $\endgroup$
    – t.ry
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ @t.ry While I do like the soylent green direction you're taking, I suppose that could be ameliorated by having them evolve on sufficiently distant continents rather than a single large one (or the opposite ends of Eurasia might do it). $\endgroup$ Commented May 14, 2018 at 13:47
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    $\begingroup$ Are you against the "wolves" also preying on humans? If not, their "supply" of food greatly increases with farming as well. ;) $\endgroup$ Commented May 14, 2018 at 14:46

3 Answers 3


Better idea: The carnivores evolved in the humid North and the omnivores the temperate South. The north is known for airborne Malaria. The carnivores all carry the disease but are adapted to be immune. Not only does this make the area inhospitable to the southerners -- it also means any martial conflict will have consequences far beyond the battlefield. Technologically the North is less developed than the South. But your omnivores' best option is just to leave the other side alone.

There can still be some interaction along the border as the story requires. Carnivores that spend long enough near the south will stop being carriers once the mosquitoes that live on them die off. Likewise you can have some characters evolve a resistance (sickle cell anemia) that allows them to travel further north. Just invent a new airborne illness with whatever properties you need! Or maybe the resistence comes from interbreeding?

The medical technology to overcome diseases like this was invented after the shot-and-pike-era so this should give a suitable barrier.

If you want the North to occasionally invade the South you need to occasionally give the North a bumper year. For some natural reason food is especially plentiful that year. Mothers always have large litters, but that year all seven survived into adulthood. A few years later food supplies run out and the bolstered population has nowhere to go except on a hunger-driven invasion of the South.

Original Answer:

The real problem is how can a nomadic race compete with a settled race.

Meat farming is less efficient than grain farming. Your carnivorous species is free to grow grain to feed their livestock but will ultimately require more land per head. This leads to smaller societies or to nomadic herding societies. In either case they will always be behind their omnivorous cousins in terms of technological development.

There should be no problem until the modern era. Consider Ancient Rome had a population of about 1 million at peak. At that time the default was small settlements. Even in the gun and shot era there will be huge swathes of the planet unsuitable to farming and your carnivores are free to drive their herds through these.

They can't exactly compete but maybe they can coexist.

Let's go a little deeper. . .

Instead of trying to give the carnivores some advantage let's remove the omnivores' advantage. What if we just make grain farming less efficient?

Maybe the planet has no equivalents to wheat/rice/corn. Every food crop is slightly poisonous. It won't kill you but it'll give you diarrhea and make a bread-based diet impossible. Settled communities grow feed for their livestock and fruit/vegetables which are less efficient than grain. On the whole this is not more efficient than farming for an all-meat diet. So you get the two types of settlement existing side-by-side.

Note: This gives both sides a handicap to developing up to the industrial stage. So that's another problem to consider.

Maybe there is a much more efficient meat-source? For example insects. Insects require less food over their lifetime to produce the same amount of protein. This is largely due to their small size. You would get something similar farming mice rather than cattle.

Bonus Points: The area is prone to locust swarms which destroy the omnivores' farms but provide a free source of food for the carnivores!

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Maybe large parts of the planet are simply unsuitable for farming to begin with. Maybe the planet is mostly water and islands? The omnivorous race can take advantage of whatever little farming land there is. The carnivorous race can take advantage of their natural swimming ability to live in coastal fishing groups.

  • $\begingroup$ You are right that after the invention of firearms, nomads could not even hope to compete with farmers. Nitpick: Ancient Rome the city had about 1 million people, maybe more; Constantinople and Alexandria were not that much smaller, and there were quite a few cities with over 100,000 inhabitants. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ Agreed that the core conflict is nomadic vs settled (in which case nomadic seldom wins. Mongols are the exception, not the rule). I suppose the question could be reframed as 'what tweaks would need to be made to a hypercarnivorous intelligent species to allow them to develop settled populations that can compete with settled human populations into the modern era?'. $\endgroup$ Commented May 14, 2018 at 13:32
  • $\begingroup$ Of course I meant the city. My point is the largest cities on the planet were nothing next to our modern cities. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 13:36
  • $\begingroup$ @Ynneadwraith the simplest tweak would be to not make them obligate carnivores - allow them to supplement a greater portion of their diet with vegetable matter. Meat production takes up a crazy amount of land. Is it possible to make them cold blooded? Meat based diet requires more land per calorie, but being cold blooded reduces overall calorie requirements substantially. Can you make these dog people require fewer people per settlement? Maybe they are much stronger than people, so 1 of them is equal to 5 humans, therefor their greater agricultural land need it balanced with lower pop. $\endgroup$ Commented May 14, 2018 at 13:40
  • $\begingroup$ @PinkSweetener I mentioned that they're not obligate carnivores, so we've already got that sorted. I struggle somewhat to see cold-bloodedness allowing them to compete with humans. It might be far more energy efficient, but it does preclude a good deal of environmental flexibility in early prehistory. Welcome to be persuaded otherwise with that though! $\endgroup$ Commented May 14, 2018 at 13:43

I like the disease idea. Here is another:

Humans make war upon open another and groups compete strongly. The main competition for humans is other humans.

Groups of hypercarnivores do not compete with each other at all. They are pack hunters and over their evolution, the ability to come together in smaller or larger ad hoc packs was strongly selected. The ability to make a large pack on short notice meant the ability to capitalize on food sources on short notice. Within a pack there is a hierarchy which is established (via pheromones and body language) within a minute or two of packs coming together.

The other way pastoralists compete with agrarian societies is by utilizing grazing habitats unsuitable for agriculture - for example the central asian steppes, in the case of nomadic human pastoralists.


Advantages at the biological level can help alleviate disadvantages at the societal level.

The wolf people could breed faster than humans with the trade off of having a shorter life expectancy. Humans produce a single child at a time while the wolves produce four or five in small litters. While the human population would have a much higher cap due to the superiority of agriculture over hunting, the wolves would be able to bounce back from major population loss much quicker than the humans could. It also means that while their population density is lower, they are able to propagate and spread across a much wider territory faster than humans can.

Wolves have fur. It might not seem like much, but fur is what allows other mammals to thrive in the wilderness without need for housing. Humans are extremely vulnerable to the elements, where as the wolf people would be able to survive fairly comfortably in the wilderness even during winter. No need for buildings means their entire society is mobile, which makes hunting them down much more difficult.

Humans have incredible stamina, but we sacrifice sprinting speed for it. The wolves, while not as fast as real life wolves due to sacrificing speed for bipedalism and tool use, could well be faster sprinters than humans. This would potentially make them better at hit and run tactics, rushing in to wound enemies before quickly escaping into the woods faster than humans can keep up.

Wolves could also have superior tracking senses. Better smell, stronger eyes, and better hearing. All things they'd need as a hunting species, and all of which provides a strong logistical advantage when maneuvering troops.

If the wolves are nocturnal they gain a significant advantage over their human adversaries at night without losing much during the day. Humans deal with nocturnal predators by shutting our doors at night, but a nocturnal predator that can open doors or windows becomes much more dangerous.

All these traits lend the wolves well toward a specific type of society.

Raiding Culture

The main thing holding the wolves back is the inefficiency of their food production, but there is one significant food source available that grows it's own crops and has a tendency to all congregate in single areas that can be spotted from miles away. Humans.

Humans make a fine food source for the wolves. So do the humans' cattle and other livestock, and it's extremely difficult to defend farming communities from a dedicated band of fast moving, nocturnal predators that can plan as well as a human can. Furthermore, it would take significant effort to hunt down the small nomadic tribes through thick forests in an attempt to find bandits that don't necessarily need to set up camp.

Humans will develop technology faster, but the wolves can steal it. Wolves shouldn't have an issue stealing more advanced gear and figuring out how it works, as well as how to make their own.

The human population will find it hard to expand into new territories because wolves are already present there before the humans can set up their infrastructure. The human population has a harder time growing out of control because they have intelligent natural predators keeping them from expanding, and any battle that occurs that the humans don't win 5 to 1 will end in a long term advantage for the wolves because they rebound faster.

So long as the wolves avoid large scale, open field battles they should be able to survive by preying on the fringes of human society and making it all but impossible to expand deeply into their own territory with constant raiding.

This lifestyle can be further enhanced with good ships and/or horses to improve mobility even further.

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    $\begingroup$ Very intriguing :) I wonder if a few very believable biological tweaks could make the raiding lifestyle long-term viable in a way it isnt quite for regular humans. Works very nicely up until the widespread use of firearms where the mobility-advantage is outweighed (horses and early firearms don't mix well). If our wolves can maintain their mobility advantage (alongside population resurgance) even after the advent of firearms then they might be able to compete better than human raiders. Especially if they can get protein-generation somewhat stable and efficient. $\endgroup$ Commented May 15, 2018 at 8:09
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    $\begingroup$ I suppose the next step humans will take against our wolfmen is similar to how the burgeoning United States dealt with powerful plains indian federations: start exterminating the prey-species they depend on. I wonder how our wolfpeople cope with that. Perhaps extensive animal husbandry of critters mobile enough to keep up with the wolf packs. Harder to exterminate sealife too, so large settled coastal popuations would be tougher. $\endgroup$ Commented May 15, 2018 at 8:18
  • $\begingroup$ Trying to starve the wolves in that way would increase the wolves' dependency on raiding. Native Americans couldn't replace buffalo with human meat in their diet, but the wolves can. Human hunting parties going deep into wolf territory would be another food source. Another thing to consider. If wolves evolved intelligence in this world, humans probably never gained domesticated dogs. That is a massive blow to our tracking and hunting capabilities. $\endgroup$ Commented May 16, 2018 at 21:01

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