Buffalo Jump

The Game Drive system, perhaps best exemplified by the “Buffalo Jump” of the North American Plains Indians is a hunting strategy in which large animals are chased into a preselected kill zone, such as being chased off a cliff.

Animals were scared with fire, loud noise, and the simple presence of a dangerous predator (humans).

Hundreds of animals could be killed this way with relatively little effort, which allowed hunters to feast for weeks at a time. There were jumps so deep that it was said that buffalo meat could be preserved for weeks at a time in the pile (still wouldn’t trust it).

So that brings me to the dragon. Dragons by virtue of being a large flying predator would require very considerable amounts of meat to survive. Flight is calorically expensive, as is fighting. The dragons in my setting are more realistic, having only four limbs and weighing less than 100 kilograms.

So my idea is

•Dragons use fire to cut off escape routes

•Because dragons fly they are immediately visible to their prey and can easily keep pace, ensuring that the hunt goes on.

• Dragons don’t engage in direct combat or just incinerate their prey in the interest of energy saving.

•They feast on the pile of carcasses at the base of the cliff

So does the idea of a game drive system make sense for a dragon? Could it possibly explain the purpose of fire breathing and an intimidating appearance?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Did you recently watch Zombieland 2? $\endgroup$
    – A.bakker
    Jan 22 '20 at 8:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @A.bakker No, I saw it a few months ago. $\endgroup$ Jan 22 '20 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ This method is probably best suited for the small dragons otherwise they had to ambush day and night outside the rabbit holes. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Jan 22 '20 at 11:39

Yes, but...

This would be a pack hunting technique rather than for solo hunting. If you're happy to have your dragons hunt in packs then it's entirely valid. For a solo hunter it may be almost impossible to maintain more than a very short drive. Setting the fires too early may close off the path to the cliff, setting the fires too late would allow the buffalo to escape. And all of that depends on there being fuel on the ground to burn, which would need time to recover between drives. A pack would be able to maintain a path without need to set fires perfectly.

A lone dragon wouldn't need that much meat anyway, smaller prey would suffice.

  • $\begingroup$ You make a very good point on the issues inherent to setting fires to drive prey. Thanks $\endgroup$ Jan 22 '20 at 9:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @NixonCranium, you should also look into the "bubble net" behaviour of humpback whales which could be a good model for a hunting pack of dragons. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Jan 22 '20 at 14:15

I do not believe that dragons would normally resort to the need for game driving. Keep in mind why humans needed to resort to game driving to get their food, we were slower than most animals so we had to resort to traps and teamwork to kill them to get food quickly (before we made weapons that allowed us to do so at range). On the other hand, traditionally dragons are much faster, stronger, can fly and have a deadly weapon that they can use at range. Given the weight of your dragons they are more akin to winged wolves (in size) that can breath fire than the traditional gargantuans they are portrayed as, so I would assume that they would a bit faster and hunt smaller prey.

It would be far simpler for a dragon to fly over a herd and roast a few of them for food. (It is a far better use of their fire-breath than using it multiple times in an attempt to direct a panicking herd) They could even just divebomb the herd to pick up a few animals like most birds of prey do in the event they cant/wont use their flames. Weighing in at under 100 kgs a simple cow would last your dragon a while. For example - a male lion eats about 3.5 kgs of food per day and it normally weights about 190kgs. Your dragons gonna need far less than 3.5kgs of meat a day unless its a highly inefficient hunter, an average cow has about 300kgs of meat on it, so if your dragon hunts alone and takes down a cow it has enough meat to last it a week.

  • $\begingroup$ I guess I was overestimating the amount of food it would actually need. I just hadn’t considered that at its significantly lower weight it would also need a lot less food $\endgroup$ Jan 22 '20 at 9:14
  • $\begingroup$ A 100 kg dragon would have a hard time lifting an adult cow (270 to 450 kg). It could kill on the ground, scare away the herd with fire, then eat. The meat won't be there for a week though - scavengers will come, and the dragon won't be able to lift the carcass. I.e. hunting cattle does not even make much sense for a 100kg dragon, it would hunt smaller prey - foxes or goats, maybe. A cattle-hunting dragon would likely be in the 1000kg class to make sense. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Jan 22 '20 at 16:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @toolforger, true I used a bad example there. My intent was more to give an idea of exactly how much meat would last a 100kg dragon. $\endgroup$ Jan 22 '20 at 16:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Flight takes a lot of energy; a ~5kg eagle will happily eat 250 - 500g of meat a day, or more. That's 10 - 20% of its own mass, compared to the lion's ~2% (from your numbers). The energy cost of flight would scale with size and mass, so for a 100kg creature it wouldn't be unrealistic to require anywhere from 5kg to 20kg per day, and that's before accounting for the energy cost of producing whatever it is that makes their fire breath work. Gasoline contains 45 MJ/kg, and a WW2-era flamethrower can expend ~20kg of it in a second or two. That's 238 thousand kcal. Maybe they do need to eat cows. $\endgroup$ Jan 22 '20 at 17:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @anaximander The wikipedia page on M2 flamethrowers has your fuel consumption rate off by a factor of 10 - it's more like 2kg of fuel used per second, not 20, for a total energy content of around 23,000 kcal. That's only about 5kg of meat, plus the other 5-20kg for normal locomotion. A single cow would feed this dragon for at least a week, even with the increased energy requirements of flying and breathing fire. $\endgroup$ Jan 22 '20 at 18:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.