Some Context

This story is a fable set in a magic forest full of intelligent animals that live in a huge community. Maleficent depicts a forest that's very close to what I'm thinking.

The magic present in the forest allows for the growth of a myriad of exotic plants, roots, seeds, etc. These items are of great value to humans, since they can be crafted into things like medicine, spices and garments (to name a few). This magic is also what made it possible for the animals to develop an intellect.

The humans never took residence in the forest - they used to come and go for what they needed. One day they did a very bad thing and were prohibited from ever entering the forest again. This ban happened a long time ago.

They live in huge cities where they enslave and kill animals (this is how the animals see farms). They can also build iron weaponry (medieval grade tech). Though there is no conflict or war going on, there are still those bold humans who think they can sneak into the forest and take the valuable stuff. There are constant attempts by individual humans to enter this forest.

To take care of that, some of the animals are responsible for keeping the forest's boundaries safe.

The Question

Suppose a group of "mercenaries" enters this forest after the goods. They're armed with medieval weapons (swords, lances, crossbows, heavy armor, traps, nets, etc) and they're experienced in fighting in groups against animals (meaning none of them will shit their pants at the sight of a lion).

From a tactic point of view, could intelligent animals defend against such attackers?

Things to Consider:

  • Though the groups are heavily armed, they're not great in numbers. I'm setting the maximum number to 15 invaders;
  • The forest is huge. There's no way that every entry point is heavily guarded by large animals, but there are hundreds of scouts spread across the border;
  • Animals allowed are strictly those whose habitat is a forest;
  • Neither animals nor humans are allowed to use magic. Both groups rely only on their physical capabilities, their tools and their intellect;
  • Yes, animals can build tools - monkeys do have opposing thumbs. But their level of technology is lower than the humans'. They can only use whatever raw materials are available in the forest (no magic is allowed here either);
  • The humans know that the animals that live in this forest are intelligent;
  • Animals don't necessarily need to kill the invaders, making them retreat is enough - though that's not always gonna be an option, since the humans will sometimes be out for blood.
  • As pointed by craq, The humans could start fires. There's a plot reason as to why they can't do it. You might accept this reason or the excuse that they won't burn the very thing they came for. But fires are out;
  • As pointed by Nuclear Wang, I'm setting the minimum time for the humans to achieve their goal, assuming they're completely undisturbed, to 12 hours.
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    $\begingroup$ While it's definitely not a duplicate, some of the discussion in answers and comments to my old question How can humans coexist with an intelligent carnivorous species? may still be of interest. $\endgroup$ – user Jan 29 '19 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ Related question. In that question, there's magic and you can train the animals, but they may not be extra intelligent like they are in this question. Still, I had fun with my answer. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 30 '19 at 3:49
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    $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 '19 at 1:21

24 Answers 24


First thought would be "make an army of lions, bears, tigers, wolves or whatever top predator you have". But that would be wrong. All of them are easily spottable from a distance, and are good targets for arrows and the like.

Your key to success is: go small and go large numbers.

While you can use small birds to carry on aerial surveys and track enemy movement, your line of defense shall be based on insect: ants, wasps, hornets, flies, mosquitoes.

For example, give a look at the Japanese giant hornet:

The Japanese giant hornet is large and can be very aggressive if provoked. Its venom, which is injected by the 6.25 mm-long stinger, attacks the nervous system and damages the tissue of its victims. Tests involving mice found that the venom falls short of being the most lethal of wasp venom, having an LD50 of 4.0 mg/kg. [...] Being stung is extremely painful and can require hospitalization. Asian giant hornet stings can cause anaphylactic shock in allergic people but can still be lethal to people who are not allergic, provided the dose is sufficient. In China, where the hornet can also be found, the conventional wisdom is that people stung more than 10 times need medical help, and emergency treatment if stung more than 30 times. The stings can also cause renal failure. Thirty to forty people die in Japan every year after having been stung by bees and wasps (including the Japanese hornet).

You might even add some fire ants to the mix:

Fire ant stings are painful, characterised by a local burning sensation, followed by urticaria. The sting site typically swells into a bump within hours, which can cause further pain and irritation, especially following several stings are at the same place. The bump may develop into a white pustule within 24–36 hours which can become infected if scratched, but will spontaneously flatten within a few days if left alone.

You can have them attack in swarms or in small, continuous incursions, slowly bleeding out the human forces.

Disease carrying insects can also work in the back, depleting humans forces by infecting them.

If humans attempt to use smoke to repel the insects, you can use that at your advantage. Smoke also hinders humans from viewing, at that point the big carnivorous can come on stage, using the smoke curtain at their advantage.

Edit: for a more comprehensive overview of the most painful insect stings, refer to Schmidt sting pain index list.

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    $\begingroup$ Upvote. But I'm thinking that mosquito netting might be a simple (and kind of humorous) defense against the "army". That probably wouldn't be enough, though. $\endgroup$ – BrettFromLA Jan 29 '19 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for this great answer. Do you know how effective would smoke be against insects? I'm asking because I know for a fact that bees are bothered by it (not trying to put holes in your answer, just already thinking plot here). $\endgroup$ – Magus Jan 29 '19 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Magus, I will add some more details to my answer $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jan 29 '19 at 16:27
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    $\begingroup$ Tigers, for instance, are ambush predators. And the viewing distance is quite short in a forest. So a night-time attack by large predators would seem to have a rather good chance of success. Followed, if necessary, by another attack the next night, and another... $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Jan 29 '19 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ I would add plant/fungal/microbial toxins to the mix as well. Birds can deliver those in the form of packages that break on impact. The toxins can enter through the respiratory system or via insect bites.. One other observation - only attack in the forest interior. If nobody ever comes back, it adds a psy-ops flavor to the warfare too. $\endgroup$ – C Teegarden Jan 29 '19 at 19:37

Animals hire the mercenaries.

There is nothing better at fighting humans than other humans. Mercenaries are fighters for hire. Appoint a spokesanimal. This talking crow will visit the mercenaries and arrange terms. The mercenaries will control access to the forest; they are forest guardians. Mercenaries do not really want to grub around for roots and such. They will allow access to the forest by people who want to harvest its resources. In exchange the mercenaries collect a percentage or an access fee. Persons allowed access by the guardians will not have their activities impeded by the resident animals.

Animals will be OK with humans harvesting plant matter and mushrooms. Not OK with killing for meat and pelts. Humans allowed access to the forest and who violate the terms will be punished but not killed. They will be punished by the mercenaries. If you disappear in the forest people assume you have been eaten by an animal or fell in a hole. If you return to the village missing a thumb and with a brand on your forehead, people will know exactly what you did.

Talking crows will stay with the mercenaries on a rotating basis to ensure terms are met. An intelligent mercenary boss will realize that this forest guardian gig is a sweet setup. Also, such a boss might perceive additional more lucrative endeavors with which intelligent animals could help - intelligent talking crows you are familiar with could provide unparalleled reconnaisance in a war situation and crows like it when humans get killed. If this is for a story, this is a natural evolution of the story.

More straightforwardly: I picture the scene where an orc chieftain is sharpening his axe. He hears a clinking and looks up to see a crow tapping a gold piece against a spear. In the trees around are more crows. Each flies across and drops a piece of gold at his feet. Then on top of the gold they drop a piece of cloth with the insignia of the mercenaries invading the forest. The orc smiles.

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    $\begingroup$ The orc scene is completely out of this universe for so many reasons, but it was so awesome that I'm actually considering orcs right now. $\endgroup$ – Magus Jan 29 '19 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ You can't ever be sure with humans. The same mercenaries might defect and join the attacking humans and the forest is doomed. $\endgroup$ – Akhoy Feb 1 '19 at 8:15

Honestly, the humans don't stand a chance.

Go the Viet Cong route, various types of pit traps and deadfalls. With a plethora of burrowing and gnawing animals these will be very easy for the forest creatures to make. The big risk is getting caught in them themselves. Of course they can use scent markers the humans will not notice. Even better, burrowing animals can make truly invisible pit traps because they can dig up or sideways, they don't have to make a surface hole. Works even better if you have venomous snakes, snapping turtles, and insects hidden in the holes, or, in the bigger ones, crocodiles.

Deadfalls are easier to spot but more destructive: imagine the deadfall you can make with spiders weaving silk rope and a bear's or an elephant's strength to lift the thing.

Then you have swarms of stinging insects, venomous snakes, and skunks. All of which have a relatively easy time sneaking up on the humans, even more so if they have other animals for assistance and distraction. Imagine a swarm of crows and ravens each carrying a different venomous snake or insect.

Then there is simple mob tactics, no human is equipped to fight a thousand squirrels and rats, biting and clawing, for every one a human can kill a dozen will bite them. And that's just one or two species, now add birds of prey and stinging insects followed by larger predators while the humans are occupied. These animals will have a big advantage in ambush tactics as well since they control the terrain and can prepare it beforehand.

The most important thing is they should never be using just one tactic, they should be using many at the same time, pit traps, and mobs, and ambushes, and aerial attacks. The humans might be able to handle each tactic individually, but they can't fight attacks from all directions. As soon as a human sets off one trap the woods should explode with things attacking them. The animals even have better scouting capabilities too, they can spot humans easier and organize fast, they have a wider range of senses and forms of locomotion available. Imagine getting attacked by swarms of bees WHILE getting attacked by packs of wolves and lions, followed by a rain of scorpions, bullet ants, and vipers as soon as you start to make any headway.

"Let's go attack a castle or something, at least they can't crawl up your trouser leg."

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    $\begingroup$ Literally, guerrilla tactics. +1 $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 29 '19 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Mazura Don't you mean gorilla tactics? $\endgroup$ – No Name Jan 29 '19 at 22:33
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    $\begingroup$ Basically home turf advantage. "You've come to the wrong neighborhood, hombre." $\endgroup$ – MonkeyZeus Jan 30 '19 at 13:24
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    $\begingroup$ "lets go attack a castle or something, at least they can't crawl up your trouser leg." Best comment ever. $\endgroup$ – Theo Brinkman Jan 31 '19 at 17:51

There are a lot of options, but for intelligent vertebrates, I would suggest some squirrels, possibly wearing crude gloves or using tongs (I'm not really sure if that's necessary) contaminate the intruder's food with some kind of poisonous mushroom (likely puréed).

The delivery creatures(squirrels vs monkeys vs birds), how the toxins get into the humans (puncture wounds are an option but probably unnecessary), and what toxin to use (mushrooms take a couple days to kill you, but they will kill you, horribly) are all up to you.

If you want a real fight, against a party as small as you're describing, I would expect a strategic attack by large animals to be enough to break up the group so that wolves etc could take them out in ones and twos like this.

From the sounds of things, it seems like the humans don't know that the animals are smart. That's a huge advantage that must be protected. Therefore my real suggestion is to first poison the humans, and then violently kill any that seem like they might make it back to the rest of their civilization.

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    $\begingroup$ Humans do know the animals are intelligent. I'll add that to the question. Thanks for pointing it. And thanks for the answer. $\endgroup$ – Magus Jan 29 '19 at 15:05
  • $\begingroup$ Rats instead of squirrels? $\endgroup$ – Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Jan 30 '19 at 23:14
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    $\begingroup$ How about a rat infected with the plague? You take a mushroom, we kill your whole city. $\endgroup$ – Mad Physicist Jan 31 '19 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ Squirrels, you say? i.imgur.com/i0Gjg23.jpg $\endgroup$ – Admiral Jota Feb 3 '19 at 1:09

First of all, the woodland creatures must have something like human intelligence in order to stand a chance against a determined human assault. This is because they need to recognize what's at stake, remain focused, and adapt to changes in the invaders' behavior.

Given this, I think that you can get some good inspiration from Tucker's Kobolds.

Tucker's Kobolds came about when a D&D game referee by the name of Tucker took the puniest sentient monster in the game—a monster that starting players can one-hit most of the time—and made use of strategy, battlefield control, etc. to turn it into a holy terror, even to player characters who have gone up against dragons, greater demons, etc.

The essence of their tactics was to allow the players to advance to a certain area of the dungeon, where the attack would begin, and from which every avenue of escape involved running a gauntlet of snipers, traps, hit-and-run attacks, etc., slowly wearing down the party.

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    $\begingroup$ I did conceive a narrative like that once. I used weak skeletons that would dismantle after one or two hits. The catch was a cult of necromancers behind the walls that kept on assembling them back up. I always liked this concept of weak foes ganging up on strong PC's. Tucker's Kobolds must be terrifying. I read a bit about them and I'm certainly mentioning them to my GM. Thanks for showing them to me. $\endgroup$ – Magus Jan 30 '19 at 12:09

To actually kill the mercenaries, the monkeys could build traps, but it would be more in character for them to hurl feces and urinate on the warriors from the safety of the tree tops. Monkeys know that making sissy humans abandon an area is a lot less work than actually killing them.

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    $\begingroup$ If they were experienced as well as intelligent, the monkeys would know that not all humans are "sissies," and there's another variety, the stubborn kind, who respond to adversity by digging in and doubling down on their original goals. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jan 29 '19 at 16:16
  • $\begingroup$ I would defend that all manners of human determination dissolves in yellow rain. Between the endless shrieking, the smell and the constant fetid bombardment , the last place you want to dig in is under a troop of angry monkeys. $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jan 29 '19 at 16:33
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    $\begingroup$ Fair enough. But this appears to be operating under the unspoken assumption that the monkeys are the only ones with a ranged attack, while the question explicitly states that the humans have crossbows. That will put an end to the "endless" bombardment quickly enough. $\endgroup$ – Mason Wheeler Jan 29 '19 at 16:36
  • $\begingroup$ @MasonWheeler Extremely low risk for the monkeys who are attacking from behind cover and can peek around a tree to throw a clod long before a human can point and shoot a crossbow with any appreciable accuracy (which would be a truly impressive shot even without adverse circumstances). They understand humans have archery - they will not be hanging out in full view hooting at the humans. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jan 29 '19 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ Note that a chimpanzee might be half as large as man, but about five times as strong, and while it may not be able to forge a sword, it will probably be able to wield one once it manages to capture it, making up with brute strength what they lack in finesse. So once they manage to sneak up—covered by others throwing dung or birds dropping it or wasp swarm attack or something—they'll stand quite good chance of finishing off the humans. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 29 '19 at 20:47

I note that members of the species Homo sapiens are animals, and like to think that they are intelligent. A number of now extinct related species were also animals and were also about as intelligent as members of the species Homo sapiens, more or less.

I also note the original question doesn't define "humans" so it is possible that members of various primate species may or may not count as "humans" for the purposes of the question, though they all count as animals for the purpose of the question and many extinct primate species may count as intelligent for the purpose of the question.

Therefore, I point out that throughout the few thousand years of history and for hundreds of thousands and possibly a few million years of prehistory various groups of beings who might count as "intelligent animals" for the purpose of the question have had various problems with groups of beings who count as humans for the purpose of the question.

Therefore there are many examples of how "intelligent animals" handled - successfully or not - problems with "humans". And depending on the nature of the society of intelligent animals in your enchanted forest they can try some of the same methods used by "intelligent animals" with "human" problems in the past.

There are also a number of mammal species on Earth with large brains that might possibly be approximately as intelligent as members of the species Homo sapiens, and who therefore might possibly be classified as people by objective outside observers.

I also note that up until about 13,000 years ago there were at least 15 now extinct species of large brained proboscideans living on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. The causes of extinction of those proboscideans are controversial, but a common theory is that hunting by Homo sapiens contributed to their extinction.

And there are examples of how present day apes, elephants, and cetaceans have reacted to hunting and habitat degradation by humans. Which sometimes has resembled military action to some extent.

I think that if there are elephants in the forest they would make good defenders. Real elephants can walk very silently. Large predators attacked by hunters have been known to circle around and try to ambush the hunters. And even though elephants don't have predators' instincts they have been known to do the same.

If a small group of humans is walking along a narrow trail between dense foliage a single intelligent elephant could walk up behind the last man silently, wrap their trunk around the man's mouth, lift him up and carry him far enough away the others don't hear the sounds made when killing the man. Then the elephant can repeat.

Or maybe a group of elephants can attack one by one, each silently grabbing the last man in line. Or maybe a group of elephants hide in ambush hidden by brush alongside the trail and when the group of men pass the elephants, at a signal the elephants all surge through the brush, and each grabs a man, lifts him high, and slams him on the ground and then steps on him.

A single elephant or a group could detect the human intruders and move parallel to them and downwind of them, so any dogs in the group don't smell the elephants. The humans might stop for the night and set up a tent or brush lean-to. When the humans grown quiet the elephant(s) sneak up silently from downwind and knock down the tent(s) or lean-to(s) and stomp on any lumps.

If there aren't any elephants in the enchanted forest sufficiently intelligent bears, boars, wolves, aurochs, or wisents might be able to duplicate some of their abilities.

I note that humans raiding the enchanted forest for exotic herbs, roots, fruits, etc. may not be as big a problem for many of the intelligent animals as other intelligent animals may be.

In real life, and presumably in non enchanted forests in your world, many species of animals prey upon other species of animals.

There have been human societies where it was permissible to eat other members of that society, but usually for ceremonial and/or religious reasons. It was very rare for members of a society to eat other members of that society for food. Humans who eat other humans for food are usually restricted by law and custom to eating members of other societies for food.

Therefore, human societies that regularly practiced eating other humans for food purposes (outside of starvation situations)usually restricted it to eating members of other human societies - which didn't make relations with those other humans societies any friendlier.

And a common accusation against disliked groups has always been cannibalism.

So I find it hard to believe that foxes and rabbits, weasels and mice, lions and lambs, etc. could be members of a single society if the predators go around eating herbivores every time they need to eat.

So possibly every single intelligent species in the forest might have a separate society and government, or perhaps the predators and the herbivores have separate societies and governments. But if there are two or more separate governments in the enchanted forest that are constantly hostile to each other, one or more governments might ally with outside humans against the other government(s).

Or maybe the situation may be like in Zootopia (2016) where the carnivores have given up eating intelligent animals. But many species of carnivores are obligate carnivores who must eat meat or starve to death. Thus there may be many animal wizards in the enchanted forest who use magic to keep the predators alive, healthy, and happy without eating intelligent animals.

Or possibly the intelligent predators go outside the enchanted forest to prey on unintelligent wild or domestic animals.

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    $\begingroup$ A fictional world does not necessarily require any carnivores to be obligate. $\endgroup$ – Noctis Skytower Jan 31 '19 at 18:36

There are many valid answers here, but I'll offer an answer in case you don't want to rely on intelligent bugs and aracnids. Suposing that the only intelligent animals in your forest are either mammals or birds... they win nevertheless.

Many animals are bigger, stronger, faster and fiercer than humans. They also have natural weapons like claws and fangs. Still, they loose against humans because they are not as smart. But these animals are, and so our only advantage to them is lost.

It's true that we have technology and they don't, but at early medieval level that's not nearly enough to compensate - another thing would be modern firearms. An intelligent lion is not going to try to bit a breastplate - he knows steel is hard - nor he's going to blindly charge against a pike. Instead, he will run against the enemy; if they don't react in time, attack, if they draw a sword or trap them in a net, fall back... and let the two lions and three weasels to take his place now than the net has been used.

Now it's the time for the fencing wolves. They can't hold a sword, but they know how a sword is used, so they feint attacks, one step up two steps aside, dodging the enemy's whacks until they can bite the sword or even better the arm holding it. From this point the fight is shortly over.

And behold the armored bear! Some friendly monkeys have tied oak barks to its forearms and even wears a crude but lovely helmet! A thick scarf of wicker and other plants covers its neck. It's not an armor is going to survive some good hits with a broadsword or an axe, but the thing is nobody is going to have time to try it. It's enough to prevent (much) harm from arrows or bolts, and enough to block or lessen the first (and only) blow the front line of humans are going to able to land. From then on, their lines crushed and in disarray the bear will wreck havoc on the puny humans while a horde of smaller creatures jump over their bodies. It will be short, but nasty.

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    $\begingroup$ You kind of described the picture I had in my mind before insects came into the picture. I really like it. Bonus points for reminding me of Iorek Byrnison :) $\endgroup$ – Magus Jan 30 '19 at 11:55

Wear them down, then attack

Have insects and small animals raid their food and water.

rodents take anything that could be used to start a fire, and bury it.

Any damage that can be done to any fabrics that could be used for tents or shelter, should likewise be left to the rodents.

You've just robbed them of their ability to eat, sleep, and stay warm.

Any stinging or biting insects could keep them up all night as well, just in case the weather isn't cold or rainy.

So, now you're left with hungry, thirsty, sleep deprived mercenaries. Morale is going to be low.... time to start the aerial assault.

Birds, squirrels, and anything that can get up in the trees to pee and poop on them, does so, further demoralizing them.

At this point, they're hungry.... send a rabbit or dear close enough to get someone to pursue... have others waiting up ahead....

If too many are pursuing, have another one run with the first, and have them split into two directions.... leading them to traps (pits, tripwires, ravines, et cet.

Have other animals clean up the tracks behind them, so even if they survive the traps, they won't be able to easily find their way back to camp.

If you can wear them out, you won't have to fight them further.

If they persist, you'll have a demoralized, weak, disoriented band of frightened/spooked men, who probably won't have any cohesion left, and could easily be picked off at this point by an occasional charging deer, or other animal.

Pick off the stragglers and any who leave the group, then bury them to make the humans think that something supernatural is just making their compatriots disappear.

If they still don't retreat, kill them all, then pose their remains in such a fashion as to terrify anyone that comes looking for them.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for poo on them. $\endgroup$ – Joe Jan 30 '19 at 14:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Joe it's actually a good tactic, esp after you've stolen their supplies. $\endgroup$ – user20762 Jan 30 '19 at 15:04

Start small with birds attacking from above and going for the eyes (dependent on the armour the humans are wearing) and rats coming from the undergrowth biting any exposed flesh or chewing through any non-metal armour to get at the flesh. Once the humans are trying to defend against hundreds of small animals coming from above and below, larger predators like wolves and bears attack, possibly carrying sharp stick wielding or rock throwing apes.

If the animals are really smart, they'll try to injure and maim the humans as opposed to outright killing them. This way the intruding humans will return to their various settlements blind, with missing limbs and disfigured faces. This should prove a good deterrent to anyone else considering going to that particular forest.


Your initial information seems to be weak when you say humans were banished from the forest. That itself means they were forced to go out of forest by some entity. I would start from there. You need to figure out that reason.

I could see multiple way of seeing this as possible even in our future. Global warming causing vast flooding of coastal regions and causing swampy lands leading to massive human death and destruction of global interconnected world. This would make humans pretty weak. I would start on this premise. The Problem of animals teaming up to fight humans is they are not same species and we humans are also animals yet we ourselves as one species cannot act together. So, an idea of tiger, monkeys, elephants teaming up against humans is a total load of BS. Unless your genre is fantasy where you have talking donkeys I would not take that path.

I would do following

  1. make humans weak and small. A dystopian world caused by humans would level the field.
  2. make the world harder for human civilization to flourish. It could be swampy land in most of the available land infested with mosquito and other deadly pests making farming very hard even with technology.
  3. create a culture of anti technology in humans who have seen evil of technology and have pledged to not use it.

Now add characters in this story. Those 15 invading humans would be stopped not by animals but by other humans who dont want to spoil forest like their spoiled fore forefathers did. you can make any one a protagonist and other antagonist.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Sumit Shrestha! If you have a moment, please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox useful. Here is a meta post on the culture and style of Worldbuilding.SE, just to help you understand our scope and methods, and how we do things here. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Jan 29 '19 at 16:15
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, they were indeed banished by an entity, but that's not in the scope of the question, that's merely context. Also, I did state in the beginning of the question that this story is a fable... Anyway, I have two opposing sides: Intelligent animals and human invaders. I just need to know what is the best way for the animals to stop the humans from advancing into the forest. There's no need to discuss why the humans were banished or who are the portagonists. $\endgroup$ – Magus Jan 29 '19 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ "For some plot reason, humans were banished from the forest a long time ago." answer : FOR SOME PLOT REASON. +1 $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 29 '19 at 17:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Magus - "There's no need to discuss why the humans were banished or who are the protagonists" - If you told us why some plot reason happened or why it worked, then no, there wouldn't be. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 29 '19 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ But then they went on to actually answer the question :) - if humans are still the top apex predator on the planet, nothing can stop them. +2 $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 29 '19 at 17:54

i read plenty of excellent answers, some of them actually similar to my thought, but I still miss two things where additional animal advantage over people lies: intelligence and stealth.

Let's start with intelligence. It's critical since you mention the forest is large and animals cannot guard all of it at once. The answer to that is focusing the attack only on humans actually trying to raid the forest.

Put predatory birds on patrols. They can distinguish a prey (rodents and small birds) from a height where they are barely visible to humans (and absolutely out of reach of any medieval weapons). For example peregrine falcon can spot pigeons while flying on an altitude of approximately 1 km. Only best bows can reach that high but if you add the capability to stoop at over 320 km/h they are virtually impossible to destroy for your humans. At the same time they can easily spot a single human nearing the forest, not to mention larger group. This way your animals will be able to recognise the danger (including details about number of enemies and at least partially armory and weapons) and focus in the areas where the humans are heading.

Make patrols in pairs so that one of the pair dives to pass the information (unless you think of other means of communication, which is probably also possible) while the other keeps the patrol. Keep patrols airborne all the time during the day.

Other way is recognizing what actually humans are heading for. You may allow once now and then the humans to actually reach their target, carefully analysing what do they collect. Then recognise those plants and other stuff and set traps and ambushes on the paths leading to where those collectibles can be found. You may even poison some of the easier reachable sources if you don't need them for other purposes nor does it contaminate the forest in some other way (natural poisons should do).

Finally on a closer range and for night attacks you should use animals with excellent hearing as well as smell to track signs of an approaching attack. Put them in strategic posts depending on the wind direction to maximise efficiency.

Now the other advantage is stealth. Animals can mostly go unnoticed. You can literally pass them by meters and not notice. Of course this capacity will depend on specific animals but most probably you'll be able to use venomous snakes/lizards as well as amphibians and insects and arachnids to get really close to the target and larger animals close enough for a fast attack staying either out of range of in general invisible. Now your attacks should be fast, best to attack enemy's leader first as it might put the morale down do the point where the rest of humans will just run for their lives.

If everything else fails an open attack as described by others will work. But you should be able to scare off most of the intruders without actually showing yourself. A cone or a stick dropped in the right moment might be enough. If it's excrement it becomes a visible sign - if you continue you will die. If this doesn't help, make a stealthy attack at the leader (venomous snake or spider biting and escaping) and if it still doesn't help just put them down with the rest of answers.


If it's a whole forest of intelligent creatures working together to fend off the invaders, then what these invaders are attempting is nothing different than a mob covered in ski masks and baseball bats in their hands strolling through a town.

Getting by unnoticed? Having the upper hand? Mere fantasies. As soon as they wander into the forest, it's enemy territory, and with it their rules.
They're quiet by nature, camouflaged from birth, they know the territory.
Literally, they have eyes in the sky.

And now there comes a mob of humans, in tinny armors, making enough noise for the whole forest, and you think they actually stand a chance?

Well, actually they've got a chance - if the animals are just as divided as humans are, or if they're afraid of death. If none is the case, then basically anything works.

But Guerilla tactics are always an easy answer, can your weaponry really muster up to their armor? If not, if you can't actually use your surprise moment to kill them, then the tide of battle can easily turn, and with their range advantage (crossbows) they can still inflict damage onto you while you're retreating.

So while it might work, it'll still have it casualties. I'd say: Forget tactic genius, and go with the two most basic strategies one can come up with:
1. Bring the bigger army
2. Surround them.

Given your eyes in the sky, who are also adept as messengers, and the fact that they're in your home turf, both should be childsplay.

So you come at them with numbers, and you don't stop till they're dead.

Even if it turns out your losses aren't actually that great, it's a powerful deterrent - a mercenary, no matter how dumb, can figure out how much his pay is worth if there's no chance to make it out alive. So in the long run, it might still be better than any sophisticated tactic.


Unless the humans have a significant upper hand size-wise (e.g. human vs mouse), or the animals have a particular weakness (e.g. thin long neck); a human will generally lose to an animal in hand-to-hand combat. What puts us on the top of the food chain is our intelligence. Even though we don't have a tiger's claws, a boar's tusks or a gorilla's pure strength, we've learned to cope by creating tools that perform the same task for us. This is our winning factor: you can swap an equipped tool and are thus able to overcome multiple situations.

Animals have two obstacles to overcome: their lack of intelligence and the fact that their physical toolkit is tailored to a particular environment.

In your example, you're assuming that they are intelligent and you're putting them in their environmental comfort zone. This means that your animals have a decent chance of winning; at least they can put up a fight as well as any decently prepared human could.

So it's really up to you here. The win/loss expectation fully relies on who is prepared the best and the battlefield tactics they use.

To take care of that, some of the animals are responsible for keeping the forest's boundaries safe.

Suppose a group of "mercenaries" enters this forest after the goods. They're armed with medieval weapons (swords, lances, crossbows, heavy armor, traps, nets, etc) and they're experienced in fighting in groups against animals (meaning none of them will shit their pants at the sight of a lion).

If some of the animals are responsible for keeping the forest's boundaries safe, and they are intelligent, does it not stand to reason that the animals can therefore be equally prepared for/experienced in fighting invaders?

The core of the answer here is that you've taken away every factor that makes a real life animal generally lose to (prepared) humans in a fight. They are intellectually equal and physically superior to the humans (though that physical superiority can be negated if the humans correctly prepare - but then the animals can counter that counter, and so on...).

This means that the animals can be considered as likely to win as the humans are. It all hinges on either side's preparedness and tactical prowess.


I think groups of intelligent beavers could really fuck humans up. Fell some trees and let them roll down the hill towards the humans. Or almost fell some trees and let them fall on the humans. Build some dams, lure the humans in front of them, and make the dams break. If the water is not deep enough to drown them, send your otter friends after them. Let us see how strong those evil humans with their weapons are when they are up to neck in the water and a otter (or a rat) is diving up their trouser leg and biting them where it hurts. Rearrange some rivers to block the humans everywhere they want to go.

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    $\begingroup$ Just want to point out an obvious fact. Anyone stupid enough to stand in front of a beaver's dam knowing beavers were out to kill them deserved it. Love how you were meh to ants, hawks, wasps, tigers, wolves. But were on the Beaver & Otter Army bandwagon. $\endgroup$ – Lonha Jan 29 '19 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ If you're not familiar with the territory in the forest you probably won't know you're standing in front of a dam. Think of a narrow valley with the dam up top. $\endgroup$ – Fels Jan 30 '19 at 8:04
  • $\begingroup$ A Beaver attack would be an incredible surprise weapon, I think. You couldn't overuse it because, as @Lonha pointed out, the humans would quickly grow wise to it. But as a one-off set piece, it'd be potentially devastating. Maybe some dangerous water-bound animals (snakes, carnivorous fish, etc) in the water being held by the dam, so they get propelled at the humans in huge numbers ... $\endgroup$ – Algy Taylor Jan 30 '19 at 13:07

The animals own the night: Overrun the human camp at 3 AM (when the human reactions of the sentries are at their worst). Use overwhelming numbers and overwhelming force. Rout and scatter the humans to destroy their leadership's ability to respond, and hunt down each individual before dawn. Display the bodies near likely forest entrances to deter future expeditions.

No survivors. Fear of the forest is the animals' greatest protection.


Direct attacks are stupid. So don't do that most times. The idea is to demoralize the humans. Start with insects and smaller things, then steal everything you possibly can.

The idea of using large animals for everything isn't viable--there just won't be enough of them. Also, large animals eat smaller ones, and that means intelligent animals eating other intelligent animals. Do not underestimate the inability to work together because of that.

Given that they are intelligent, they have to have a REASON to join this fight. Someone or something has to lead and unify the forest.

Night is the best time to attack. Meanwhile, they should be tracked.

Direct attacks are possible, but should be the last thing done.

Here's what I would do:

  • Poison a creature that's good to eat after stealing all the food supplies. Allow that animal to be killed by and eaten by the humans. The meat is poisoned and this will weaken or kill the humans.

  • Look at the route that the humans are taking, and note the resources there. Paint or inject the normally edible berries with a virulent toxin.

  • Poison darts. Not that hard to build, and cooperative frogs or whatever would give you what's needed (the frogs don't have to die!) You can also tie some to berry bushes in the hopes that they prick themselves.

  • Traps can be built, and animals can "corral" the humans, forcing them in a particular direction or separating them from each other.

  • Have a strike team whose only purpose is to steal weaponry and tools. Insects, stinging insects might be a good way to get someone to drop their weapon. Other animals should be there ready to pick them up, either to dispose of them or put them to use. Disarming and training animals to disarm men should be a big part of training. You can have a few large animals whose task it is to disarm, and others that run in and take the weapon off the field.

  • Sabotage everything. If they have tents, send mice in to gnaw at the ropes, steal the food. Anyone on lookout for the evening isn't just watching for large things. It's also small things. And you can't really move about at night because, well, that's suicide.

  • Set a false trail. If you know what the humans are looking for and there's a way to get them to go to the wrong place, do that. The more time they spend looking for it, the more resources that they expend. Get them to go where you want them to go.

  • Hide what they are looking for. If they have a map (which in a forest isn't always worth much) find a way to camouflage what they are looking for.

  • Use the environment and natural advantages. Some animals are lighter than humans, they can cross ice that men might fall through for example--get a human to chase you across that ice, and soon, they are freezing to death or drowned. This can be done in plenty of other circumstances (this is just one example) such as using the trees when the ground has a trap you've set. Using scent to warn other animals about a trap that humans can't really detect. The beaver dam in another answer was perfection. This is broad because it's specific to the type of animal and environment present.

  • While you might not have weapons or tools, the humans do. Steal them, and if you can, use them.

  • Take advantage of fear and awe. Skulls of the dead hanging from trees, perhaps signage advertising that humans are not welcome.

  • If the animals are united and not afraid of dying for a noble cause, attack in numbers. Do this on the first day, not as they are getting close to the source. Give them open wounds. Throw poo at those open wounds. Infection is no joke.

  • Don't target all of them. Target one of them. Kill your target. Sure it's less of a share to divide (a plus for mercenary types) but it also might give them pause.

  • Make night unsettling. Assign owls and other night creatures to make periodic unholy sounds so nobody gets a good nights' rest. Then one night, just when they've got used to it-- no noise at all. Do that for two nights, and maybe see about killing whoever is on watch.


I like big and small armored animals. The animals have trade goods humans want and the animals can find sympathetic blacksmiths willing to make armor for them.

Scenario Human Government Against the Animals: Every war had turncoats, spies, and conflicted humans on every side. Throw in making the blacksmiths personally rich with the trade goods and you would have armor for the animals constantly being produced. The blacksmiths may have to hide their work but when has that not been the case in war?

Scenario Human Government Sides with and Protects the Animals: Blacksmiths many be able to openly supply the animals and become the main source of wealth flowing from the forest into society. Blacksmiths become a new merchant class along with their other blacksmith works. Leads to very creative armor designs and modification for different animals. The trade for exotic plants, roots, & seeds could drive the development of carts and wagons with harness a bear, deer, elephant, etc. can pull with and settle into without straps to bring goods to the blacksmiths.

I also did not see rhinos in the other comments. Very mean, VERY strong.


Love your idea. For an oddly-real world example of a similar situation - depredation by ravenous humans, animals simply trying to protect and provide for one another in their native land - check this out: http://mentalfloss.com/article/567185/german-and-russian-wwi-soldiers-fought-wolves

This may give you some hint as to how animals can fare against humans when working together - as well as keeping with the European-esque biome you might be seeking (a la Maleficent), instead of Japanese hornets and the like. Keep in mind that these were starving creatures facing against modern(ish) technology. Your creatures would very likely fare much better.

Another real-world example, and more in keeping with your time period, was the Beast of Gevaudan, who eluded and faced off against many full-grown men for a long period of time while also slaughtering around 100 people.


This can go one of two ways...

Natural Defense vs. Learned Tactics

A natural defense (which could be induced magically and quickly) would be something natural about the animals and area of forest to protects it from humans. EG: the air is toxic to humans but not the animals. In fairy tales this is often seen as a "tainting of the land" where-by anything in the area is unusable by humans, and being in the area may be detrimental to humans over time. This has nothing to do with intelligence once done, but an intelligent force may have inacted it. EG: all the creatures of the forest could have prayed to a forest god to protect them, so the forest god shot spores out from musrhooms to cloud the air and make it toxic to humans. Maybe even just make an impenetrable ring of toxin around the forest to keep the humans out while the creatures lived peacefully inside. (Which could lead to the humans penetrating the toxic ring)

Learned Tactics

This would leverage intelligence, and would be more about what level of military strategy and tactics the creatures developed. And, that would depend on how intelligent the creatures are. In some fairy tales, creatures are smart enough to know what humans are saying, but are otherwise still animal-like. In other fairy tales, the creatures are donning armor and practicing fighting with swords and smelting metals and such. You have to consider that if a creature reaches a certain level of intelligence, it might go the way of humans are start expanding on it's technology to where it's not "living with nature" anymore. Intelligent squirrels might stop being complacent with living in trees and eating nuts, and instead creating nut farms, little hovel cities in the trees, make equipment out of leathers/woods/etc.

The learned tactics route would require you to decide how "militarized" the creatures became. Anything under constant attack would need to adapt tactics to survive, and as such could develop into a militaristic society that constantly practiced in order to stay ready to repel attack. This would lead to them knowing advanced strategy, like setting up traps and things. But, a society that has always known peace wouldn't know how to defend itself, even if they had other advanced technologies. E.g.: squirrels have automated nut farms... doesn't make them great defenders of the forest.

So, you'd have to think about how much interaction the humans have had with the forest creatures to decide how militarized and prepared the creatures are. If they could mobilize all of nature at their disposal, then they would just get some poisons (e.g.: from plants) and go poison the human water supply. (Fastest way to destroy a castle in medieval times was poison the water supply... troops can't hold a castle if there's no water to drink).

You'd also have to consider the size of the animals. Some forests just have small animals like squirrels. Others have bears and such. If they could just deck a force of attack bears out in armor, those would steamroll any human force. If it's just a bunch of squirrels, they'll need to mobilize other forces, do sneak attacks, etc.

You'd also have to decide if the creatures are just defensive, or do they go on the offense. If they're just defending themselves, then they'd stay in their part of the forest and just set up traps or poisons or whatever. If they go on the offense, then they'd have to militarize and mobilize more and actually go raid the humans.

And, how would they raid ... they can be sneaky and indirectly attack the humans by attacking their resources (poisoning wells, poisoning livestock, salting the earth so nothing grows on farms, lighting homes on fire while barricading humans in while they sleep, etc.. all can be done without a fight.. just sneak in at night). Direct conflict would require war and attacking.

The thing with conflict is, unless one side is wiped out in the initial conflict, the conflict on both sides grows and evolves. If the humans struck first, the animals in the forest would adapt and find out they need to defend their forest. Eventually, if the humans kept raiding, the forest creatures would decide to go on the offensive and do things to make the humans lives miserable (sneak attacks). Most forces go for whatever method will get them the best outcome with the least casualties, so that's why sneak attacks would work. Unless the humans would want to come into the forest and burn the whole place down, they'd have to go look for animals one-by-one. So, the animals doing a direct fight would be more foolish since the humans could face all of the animals and possible wipe them out in a single bout.

So, it all depends on how advanced the forest creatures are (technolgy-wise), how big of creatures we're talking about, how quickly the conflict escalates between humans and creatures (as each side gets more and more defensive or offensive, and also starts to modify it's society to become more militarized to handle future conflict), and how far they learn advanced strategy and tactics. Is there some squirrel version of Sun Tzu that shows up and is a master tactician? Or, are squirrels just stuck fighting like the Rats of NIMH? Do the humans get the aid of dogs to go into the forest to chase out the squirrels? Is everyone fighting "nobly" (i.e.: directly), or are they being sneaky and dastardly?

Lots of things to consider, with time (i.e.: how quickly things have escalated, or whether it's been a constant back-n-forth) also being a major factor.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding! I've added a couple of possible section headers to try and break up the wall of text, but I think this could do with a few more, along with a summary/TL;DR section at the top. $\endgroup$ – Philip Rowlands Feb 3 '19 at 10:39

Poisonous snakes and spiders.

In a fair face to face combat, humans will have significant advantage. While animals can overwhelm them, the victory can be too costly. What animals can do the best is to use sneak attacks.

@L.Dutch already suggested to use swarms of bees and ants. I recommend focus on the insects/arachnids/animals that can:

  • Approach humans stealthily, likely at night;
  • Do the maximum amount of damage with their bite;

Even when bites are not lethal, having just a few members of the group suffering from those bites may make the whole group turn around.

  • $\begingroup$ Humans would be prepared so snakes are unlikely to be successful against armored legs. Spiders would have the best chance for a suicide mission. They can drift in on the air (or be air-dropped) and find the tiniest of gaps in the armor to get through. A well-placed bite from any highly-venomous spider could be debilitating if not actually fatal and lethal if many could coordinate on each victim to increase the dose of venom. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jan 29 '19 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ Humans can't wear the armor all the time. And even during daytime, walking through the forest in steel boots and something like chain mail... that will be brutal. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jan 29 '19 at 19:14
  • $\begingroup$ They can certainly wear it for several days if need be (take turns for defecation under guard), and they may only need it for a few hours depending on the particular incursion. Walking around in mail is not difficult - it is only some extra weight distributed around the body, which is fairly comfortable. If later medieval tech then plate is even better - lighter and more form-fitted. People wore it on campaign - a hike through the woods is nothing. Though really, all they need is some cloth armor or leather to be proof against a snakebite. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jan 29 '19 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ They may wear armor all day (although without pack animals that would be extremely taxing, their supplies will run out in a few days), but they can not be standing upright all day - any practical armor has enough gaps and openings through which a snake can slither. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jan 29 '19 at 19:45
  • $\begingroup$ Armor is not that cumbersome - those whose lives depended upon it did have to wear it for extended periods while undergoing life-threatening exertions for days at a time (the "knights needed a crane to get on a horse - if they fell over they couldn't get up again" is a ridiculous myth). Their armor would not have enormous gaps for snakes to just slither in and out of - the purpose is to keep it difficult to even get the point of a dagger in. Mail is easy to be fully-enclosed, and when you see big gaps in museum pieces of plate armor, be aware that those gaps were closed with mail. $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Jan 29 '19 at 20:03

They would evolve with us. They'd use their intelligence to make us think they are cute and tap into our natural instincts to care for young. This transition would take thousands of years and one day you may have humans caring for animals as if they are on of our own. E.g. Dogs

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    $\begingroup$ Thousands of years is not a useful timeframe when you want to defend against an incumbent threat, like the one in the OP's question. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jan 31 '19 at 13:29

In general, apply guerrilla warfare tactics.

If the humans are in the forest for several sleep cycles keep them awake. Sleep deprivation over a longer term is nasty.

If the animals do not care about their own lives or are willing to sacrifice themselves, just swarm the humans. A group of 15 with medieval weaponry can't hold off greater numbers indefinitely if they also have to get somewhere, i.e. are not in a fortified position.

Can the reason for which the humans enter the forest be removed? If they come for certain berries that have great healing powers, but are useless to the animals, destroy the berries.


like you said humans would be attracted by greed.... so humans would want minimun loses and max profit. they need to make the humans know that the deeper they enter the forest the less they will get and most they will suffer. the birds and bats could commit random attacks, so they dont have any time to rest or eat in peace wolves will "scream" at the distance to make they think they are reaching the fight but animals will always stay running from any open battle scenario, of course vietnam style traps in the path would help too. if one human falls into a trap that would be a perfect moment to attack (i assume mercenaries will have a close relation, so thats 1 or two less fighters with guns because they would help his friend) animals would have to always choose the moment and place for each and every battle: with this, humans finally know that is better to stay at mommy's home instead of playing rambo the hunter in the forest. if the hunters know that in each expedition at least one hunter dies, that would be a disaster for the mercenary business. no one would want to go, and if they want to hire new mercenaries that would be too expensive

  • $\begingroup$ Hi thazadar, welcome to Worldbuilding! If you have a moment, please take the tour and browse the help center pages to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Dubukay Feb 1 '19 at 19:01

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