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There have been countless (literally) stories written that have contained within their pages monsters that are stronger, faster, and bigger than the human heroes.

I can think of more than a few where the monsters are a relatively common species. Right off the bat I think of one of the trilogies in the In Her Name series by Michael R. Hicks. The home world of the alien race (I forget their name) has large beasts on it that prey on them or any other creature wandering outside of the bounds of civilization.

Our own history shows that we as a species have wiped out anything that had the power (size and strength) to oppose us or torment us in any way. Climate change was not the only thing that wiped out countless Ice Age species.

I want a world where a dragon-like creature roams the wilderness. I want it to occasionally hunt people. How can I stop said creature from being driven to extinction by the local humans?

Is the only real possibility that these animals will be driven to extinction or do they have some chance? When thinking of the tech level, refer to our current tech level.

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    $\begingroup$ Related (possibly, but not likely, duplicate): How would societal development be impacted if humans were not an apex predator? $\endgroup$ – a CVn May 20 '15 at 14:19
  • $\begingroup$ I'm thinking about bears in northern France. The locals set a bounty on bear pelts and the population was driven to extinction within a few years. $\endgroup$ – superluminary May 20 '15 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ The average human is sapient. Can a creature be as intelligent as the average human and not be sapient? I honestly don't know the answer to that, or even if there is one. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre May 20 '15 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Simply assume that intellectual capacity is directly tied to intelligence and that intelligence is directly tied with sapience (or would that be sentience?). $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 20 '15 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ Alaska, grizzly bear. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 20 '15 at 18:29

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I can think of a few reasons:

The creature is difficult to catch

Sharks, being aquatic, have a large range and are not simple to find. They can be anywhere in the sea.

The human death toll is not sufficiently large

Again, sharks kill people, but not enough people to warrant eradicating them. We take our chances.

The creature is an important part of the ecosystem

Removing an apex predator from the ecosystem is going to cause problems. Perhaps the creature fulfils some necessary function.

The society enjoys or encourages risk taking

I remember reading a book a long time ago about a society in which risk taking was celebrated. In order to keep everyone on their toes traps were set which would need to be avoided on a daily basis. Going to the shops involved leaping over spike trap pits and pirouetting around swinging blades.

The creature is useful

Dragon riders?

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    $\begingroup$ "Going to the shops involved leaping over spike traps pits and pirouetting around swinging blades." That society has officially beat ancient Sparta in the "hard to survive in" category. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 20 '15 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ You talk about sharks, but humans kill way more sharks than sharks kill humans, so I don't see it as a fit example. $\endgroup$ – Arturo Torres Sánchez May 20 '15 at 17:40
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    $\begingroup$ The creature is a micro-organism. $\endgroup$ – Samuel May 20 '15 at 23:36
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    $\begingroup$ @ArturoTorresSánchez The ratio is approximately 110,000,000 to 10 p.a. $\endgroup$ – his May 21 '15 at 8:16
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    $\begingroup$ One more option: Killing a Dragon has a devastating effect... The carcass viciously explodes from the boiling heat, releasing toxic gas, germs or other parasites. These are only no problem, if Dragons die of old age and throw themselves into a volcano, where everything is sterilized. - So killing a Dragon would always be a major risk to the hunters and any cities close by, soiling the ground and water, killing nearby animals and plants... $\endgroup$ – Falco May 22 '15 at 12:11
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The Dragons Are Useful

Suppose there's another animal that the dragons keep away. This could be another predator that has enough smarts to avoid dragon territory, or a pest that dragons love to eat. Now you could kill the dragon and take care of the pest/predator yourself, but what if it's cheaper and/or easier to just keep the dragons around and live with the damage they do?

In that case your cultures might develop with the attitude that, yes, we have dragons, occasionally they eat people and that sucks, but the alternative is Explosive Spider-Wasps. We'll keep the dragons, thank you.

The Dragons Are Necessary

There could be a symbiotic relationship where killing them off would be suicidal.

You could go a couple of routes with this. The first would be direct - there are some plants where, for example, they have to be eaten to spread their seeds. This is obviously tricky with humanoids, but you could do something along the same lines, where dragons are necessary component somewhere in their lifecycle.

The second would be indirect. Consider Fire Ecology. A lot of natural ecosystems need periodic fire to be healthy. Maybe the ecosystem your sentients live in needs regular purging by dragonfire, or bad things happen. So cultures that wipe out dragons don't survive long.

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    $\begingroup$ Bless the Maker and His water. $\endgroup$ – Geobits May 20 '15 at 15:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Neil: I agree that's what would happen if you dropped dragons into any modern human culture, no matter how useful they were. I don't necessarily agree it would hold true for an alien species, especially one that's basically lived with the dragons since pre-history. $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske May 20 '15 at 16:08
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    $\begingroup$ "Maybe the ecosystem your sentients live in needs regular purging by dragonfire" I rather like this idea. Perhaps there could be some fast-growing plant that takes an enormous amount of human labor to wipe out once it's infested our farms or residential areas, but in the wild, dragons regularly scorch and consume whole fields of it. $\endgroup$ – recognizer May 20 '15 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ People could learn to start fires much easier than suffer depredations by large dragons. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat May 20 '15 at 21:28
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    $\begingroup$ Along the "necessary" lines, imagine bees: they are vital to our food supply, because they pollinate things we eventually eat. Could we pollinate things by hand, or with some other animal? Sure, but it'd be much more difficult. Bees would have to be a huge threat to us before we'd ever consider eradicating them. All you have to do is have a staple food have a symbiotic relationship with dragons that's difficult or impossible to replace, and you've got dragons that can't be removed. $\endgroup$ – Tim S. May 21 '15 at 19:11
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I think you can look for guidance to the big cats of our own time, which do (infrequently, but more in the past) prey on people. In order to survive long enough for human sensibilities to want to "preserve the noble creatures," the species will need to have a few characteristics:

  1. Numerous. They need to have enough representation and range that small scale eradication campaigns will not have too much impact.

  2. Distant. While they may periodically interact with people, they will need to live at some distance so that they aren't a regular threat.

  3. Moderately destructive. A dragon that wipes out villages will draw too much attention to itself and become a target for questing and such. A smaller creature that kills the town drunk when he's out too late or drags off a few cattle won't stir widespread hatred.

  4. Flying. Really helpful for eluding capture, but not necessary.

It took until the 1900s to eradicate wolves in parts of Europe (and in some places they still survive). A creature that was regarded as "more noble" might be protected earlier and not experience such a decline as technology allows better hunting techniques.

The interactions will start with the stronger species being dominant, until technology allows the weaker to first develop defensive methods (fire, melee weapons), then offensive methods (distance hunting weapons, traps). Then there will be an era of small scale hunting, which will ramp up as the technology gets better. Hopefully about that time someone will adopt the creature as their coat of arms and become dominant, which will allow at least some to survive in domestication or zoos.

Eventually, after significant habitat depletion and extermination, the creatures will be protected by people who don't experience significant impacts from their presence. At that point, survival is pretty likely, preserves will be set up, and they will be studied.

Your species just has to survive long enough to get there.


What follows was due to a misunderstanding, but I think it's interesting so I'm going to leave it for now

I just saw your comment about intelligence. I think if they have the same mental capacity, they could potentially coexist. The species that will become dominant will be the ones to acquire technology fastest. Humans are really good at using tools; a creature that can rely more on strength might not develop the early technologies needed to lay the groundwork for progress.

In any case, I think the points above are still valid. Presumably the species will develop separately, until eventually they will develop the ability to communicate. Then as long as they can prevent each other from committing genocide, it will probably develop into a somewhat stable peace.

You can draw on the history of infrahumanized groups and how they survived. Certainly Europeans considered "natives" to be "less human" than themselves, and though they did really bad things to them, most other races survived. Shipwrecked Europeans experienced the same thing - they were "obviously subhuman" and enslaved. While the stronger in an area will probably enslave the weaker, both species will likely survive to the time where slavery is eradicated (hopefully).

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    $\begingroup$ Good points. Cougars share most of those characteristics, and in fact they still exist today in remote mountainous regions. I don't think it is much of a stretch of the imagination to have dragons exist in much the same way. Also the flying would mean that despite hunting efforts, dragons could still mostly elude attempts to wipe them out. $\endgroup$ – Neil May 20 '15 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Neil Until the society in mention develops jets.... $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 20 '15 at 19:47
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    $\begingroup$ @DJMethaneMan -- yeah, jetliners and dragons would have an interesting time of things when it comes to sharing airspace... $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay May 21 '15 at 2:42
  • $\begingroup$ @DJMethaneMan On a pedantic point, chasing dragons with jets would be like trying to attack old world war I style fighter planes with a jet. Nah, you'd have to have anti-aircraft gunnery to do the job well. $\endgroup$ – Neil May 21 '15 at 7:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Neil: Not that remote, for cougars. Hereabouts they come into town to play at the casinos - but get kicked out, apparently for being underage :-) dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2193761/… They also like to hang out at the mall: lasvegassun.com/news/2014/may/23/… $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 21 '15 at 22:45
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Your assumption is that any species that poses a significant threat to a sapient species would eventually be wiped out by that species. Which is reasonable - it's within that species' best interests, and they are capable of putting their resources together to do so.

Take one of those things out of the equation, and you have a species that is still around, despite being incredibly dangerous.

Other answers have gone over reasons why it might not be in their best interest - big risk-takers enjoying the big game hunt, the big creature being essential to the ecosystem, the big creature being useful to the sapient one - so let's consider the second option, that the creature is simply too powerful to destroy.

Fortunately, we have an example of a world where just such a creature exists - Attack on Titan. The gigantic Titans of this world are large enough and dangerous enough compared to the capabilities of the humans that trying to wipe them out is not only dangerous, but futile. The Titans can also survive without a food source, so strategic starvation is not an option.

You could easily assume the same thing about a draconic race. There would be those outliers who want to slay Dragons for heroic purposes (like the heroes in Attack on Titan want to slay Titans despite the danger), but give the dragons nigh-impenetrable scales, extreme strength, flight (so that any fortification, no matter how strong, can be surmounted) and longevity such that they can go for years without 'feasting' upon humans and livestock.

For an additional bonus flavor to such a dragon, have them feed on humans once a year, and be incredibly selective of their choice in meal, meaning only the most beautiful humans would be consumed (as per the usual 'dragon-kidnaps-princess' motif).

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Sapient creatures tend to craft their environment to suit their needs. A species hunting you is generally considered to be in need of substantial crafting.

However, if there are other things in need of crafting, the dragon can appear low on the priorities list. If there is a problem with simply not being able to grow enough food to survive famines every few years, dragons decreasing the population won't matter enough to warrant hunting them.

On the flip side, Dragons could provide enough of a service to make the loss of a few unwarry individuals acceptable. If there is some tremendously nasty invasive creature which makes life miserable, and dragons happen to eat that creature, we may accept the existence of dragons because we effectively live in symbiosis with them.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree. If dragon attacks are something far and inbetween, your immediate worry is not going to be dragon attacks. $\endgroup$ – Neil May 20 '15 at 16:14
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Lions, tigers, leopards, crocodiles, alligators, many types of sharks... faster, stronger, and bigger than human. All occasionally hunt humans with good success. Human in water is no match for sharks or giant reptiles. A large feline that gets close enough to human to attack and is hungry generally gets to eat.

There was actually a recent question that was about the conditions that allow an apex predator capable of hunting humans to survive. (Can't find the link atm, sorry. Maybe somebody can give it in the comments...) The short version is that the predator much have a separate ecological niche and habitat. Lions and tigers for example survive mostly in areas that for one reason or another have low population. Currently this is often due to wildlife preservation efforts, but without modern technology large areas would be incapable of supporting population dense enough to be an issue. Sharks are aquatic and before commercial fishing did not compete with humans for habitat. Leopards are adaptable enough to live in cities...

So you just have to make the primary (remaining) habitat of the pseudo-dragon something that is sparsely populated. Like sharks it could be aquatic. It could live in swamps or jungles that would require a serious effort and infrastructure to make inhabitable. It could live on a desert or steppe that has nothing that makes fighting a dragon for territory attractive. Trophy hunting is only practical if the area is easily accessible from some place with idle rich. If no highly developed areas are near nobody will bother huge man-eating monsters.

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A lot depends on what you mean by "dominant species". Insects are by far the most numerous and have adapted to virtually every ecological niche available, by some measures insects are the dominant species and beatles are the most common and thus the most dominant kind of insect. Bow to your insect overlords....

Apex predation is also not a measure of dominance except in limited circumstances. Placing great white sharks in the african savanna is not going to displace lions any time soon. Dragons are in a similar situation; they may be the apex predator in Middle Earth, but their prey is becoming scarce and their range is shrinking as the races of Elves, Humans, Dwarves, Hobbits etc. clear the land and farm.

In fact, I might argue that the only way you could get two intelligent species to coexist would involve either having each species specialized in one ecological niche, or use their intelligence in very different and non overlapping ways (i.e. Douglas Adam's description of the Dolphins):

For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.

― Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Notice that similar hominid species (the Neanderthals and Denisovans) were rendered extinct either directly or indirectly by Homo Sapiens. My guess is that our Ancestors were able to outcompete all the other hominids in important respects like hunting and living more efficiently off the same piece of land than anyone or anything else, hence our place as the only hominid left.

This may not necessarily have been through warfare or directly hunting and killing competitors, simply being able to breed faster and have more children live through childhood would push the balance (fewer and fewer Neanderthals in every generation are competing against more and more Homo Sapiens for available food, and the Sapiens have also spilled over into all the adjoining valleys as well). Intelligent Dolphins, however, are under no such pressure.

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For any creature to survive alongside humans, that creature must be able to withstand the ecological changes that humans precipitate. Namely, the creature must be able to withstand being killed at whatever rate humans kill it at, and it must be able to keep getting food even with human hunters competing with it.

The creature would need to exist in a different ecological niche than humans.

One of the major reasons that humans drive large carnivores extinct is competition. Humans tend to hunt large plant eaters, so any animals that have evolved to hunt specifically these kinds of creatures tend to be driven extinct by human competition. A good example of this is the smilodon, a kind of saber-toothed cat. It evolved as a niche predator of large animals like ground sloths and mammoths, but wasn't well suited for hunting smaller, faster creatures like deer. When humans came in and drove their food to extinction, the smilodons followed.

In order to survive humanity, a creature would need a different food source than us. Most likely, if the creature is big enough to eat us, it either eats something that is too big for us to kill, like a large sauropod, or else something that's too dangerous or inaccessible for us to go after, like crocodiles or whales.

The creature must either be too big for humans to kill, or not be the biggest creature around.

Most creatures have a reproductive rate which is closely tuned to their rate of death. Even low-level killing from humans, for example, can be problematic for something like a polar bear that reproduces slowly.

On the other hand, animals like coyotes that regularly get eaten in the wild tend to produce lots of babies to account for the higher death rate in adults. For coyotes, competition with wolves (and predation by wolves) caused higher mortality rates than did people, so killing off the wolves has increased their population.

In order to survive humans, a creature would need to be either big enough to almost never get killed by people, or else not be the biggest thing around. For example, if there were dragons and something big enough to munch on them in the natural environment, humans killing off the dragon munchers could lead to a population boom for the dragons, especially if the former apex predator ate nothing but dragons and ate lots of them.

The predation rate of the dragon munchers would only need to be higher than the rate at which people kill dragons. Any areas with low populations would also serve as dragon population reservoirs, since dragons would quickly reproduce to fill these areas in the absence of human competition for food.

There would probably need to be a more productive environment.

Of course, there needs to be a source of lots of calories for all of the dragons and dragon munchers to be ecologically viable. This has, of course, been the case at lots of points in the past. Dinosaurs grew huge in part because there was more plant growth when they were lumbering around. More plants can support more and larger herbivores, which in turn support more an larger carnivores. A human sized sapient creature which evolved in such an environment would likely disrupt their environment, but probably not enough to kill off all predators larger than themselves. Especially in the untamed wilds, humans could easily be far from the top of the food chain.

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Your dragon has an advantage that none of the other large predators that hunt humans have: it can fly. Considering a large size dragon (I'm picturing fairy-tale dragons larger than elephants here) it will have an impressive set of wings and will be able to travel enormous distances relatively easily.

One of the reason that they haven't been hunted to extinction can be that nobody is willing to make the voyage. Dragons could live high in the mountains, far out of reach of any hunters. The world's highest mountain peaks haven't been reached until fairly recently; it's nigh impossible for low level humans to reach them. They could also lair in active volcanoes, where the heat makes it impossible for humans to follow.

They could even be migratory. If Dragons don't have a fixed nest but instead fly from spot to spot, while hunting in between, humans will not be able to keep up. They can cross forests, hills and rivers with ease and other than accidentally bumping into one you'd only see them when they are hunting you but you'd never reach them when you are hunting them. Your only hope would be to find a Dragon in its nesting period, but since their territory is absolutely huge, they leave no tracks on the ground and a nesting Dragon does not hunt, fat chance of actually finding one.

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  • $\begingroup$ On foot maybe, but I bet if there were dragons on top of those mountains we could have attacked them with airplanes or balloons a hundred years ago. $\endgroup$ – Random832 May 21 '15 at 1:41
  • $\begingroup$ Hm. Good point, when it comes to modern day tech it becomes less and less likely that any kind of creature with this kind of mobility would be allowed to survive. They would only be able to survive in zoos. $\endgroup$ – Erik May 21 '15 at 5:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Random832, if these dragons instead of «hiding» on a mountain top would (also) be able to live 1,000 meters below sea level, humans would have great difficulty in hunting them –even with current technology en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Submarine_depth_ratings. $\endgroup$ – Kasper van den Berg May 21 '15 at 20:30
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The species is worshiped or venerated by the sapient aliens.

The creature is seen as a god, or agent of a god or gods. Perhaps different species are associated with different gods.

Those that are killed by the creature could be seen as blessed, having ascended to an afterlife.

Perhaps those merely left maimed are considered cursed.

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Dragons can live in really inaccessible mountains and far away from major human settlements. In open plains with good visibility and 20 mm anti-air machine gun humans would have a pretty good advantage against a dragon, but on narrow mountain trails, where there is little warning and no place to take cover and no vehicles to transport heavier weapons/ammo, not so much.

They might also culturally be too important to completely wipe out, as long as they don't pose a threat to major (rich, powerful) cities people might leave them be. They'd still be hard to hunt with civilian weaponry (like shotguns and rifles) so if the government doesn't think that your village is worth protecting from dragons, there could be some dragon issues there.

Ultimately, look to real animals: bears occasionally maul people but they weren't driven to extinction completely because it's fairly rare and they are seen as important as a species.

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How about a totally different reason: A sapient species that is not effectively able to combat the apex predator?

Consider an intelligent mole or the like--something that pretty much lives underground. It did not evolve in an environment where perception of a large amount of information at once was of much evolutionary value. It normally runs from a threat, if it must fight it's fighting one opponent in a confined space.

Technological aid can overcome the short range senses that such a creature would develop but it can't overcome the information overload problem of surface combat or especially aerial combat. A raptor would totally dominate them in a shared environment. Venturing upon the surface safely would require tanks, wiping out the raptors would require robotic weaponry.

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And depending upon how you define "dominant" you could also have a situation with two sentient species.

Consider a world with a near-sapient predator, the world is split into two landmasses, the predator inhabiting both. (Say, like Earth) The world is subject to a lot of bad events that repeatedly push both of them to the brink. Intelligence helps them survive the calamities, both are driven to intelligence. However, survival means being mobile, they are basically limited to what they can carry--technology is basically capped at the late stone age. Although true simultaneous evolution isn't going to happen without great luck a technological cap means it's not actually required.

They have also been driven to favor different environments--say, one likes swamps and the other likes mountains.

Times change, the calamities end and the landmasses are linked. (Maybe a land bridge, maybe simply the removal of something that rendered an existing connection unusable--say, a very hazardous volcano on the land bridge.)

Now you have two admittedly related sapient species occupying the same world. They spread into each other's part of the world, each dominates it's preferred environment but is definitely the underdog in the other's.

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I'm going to go off-tangent to the existing answers and say: just go for a super-SUPER-predator. Make your dragons the most dangerous, most unimaginably powerful creatures imaginable. Your humans cannot 'hunt them to extinction' or 'poach them', because they are the hunters. Here are some of my suggestions for a super-predator species:

  1. Gives birth to hundreds of spawn in their lifetime. Think xenomorph, they lay dozens of eggs at a time, and their newborns are already predatory and vicious.
  2. Impossible to take down solo. A hunter/poacher/asshole with a gun is just another snack to them, whether its because they are insanely fast or monstrously tough. You need an entire dedicated hunting team to take down even one, and this brings me to my next point-
  3. Make them pack/swarm animals. Now you need an army to remove them once they've settled down... And what guarantee have you that you got them all?

Now the challenge is flipped... How would the humans survive? :D

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  1. The dragon has a thick armored skin capable of shrugging off a 50mm bullet
  2. It likes to delve in unpopulated areas such as barren deserts, abandoned towns. It hates humans but avoid their settlements for there is nothing that it wants from them.
  3. Something unknown (Evolutionary mutation?) caused the species to develop Electrocytes underneath the thick armored skin. Effect of which is to turn the dragon into a walking (flying?) EMP generator.
  4. The eyes are so big that it can see for miles and the brain is capable of processing threats faster than a google's datacenter is able to process search queries.
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How can I stop said creature from being driven to extinction by the local humans?

When the local humans choose not to drive the creature to extinction. This is the only case, given the other restrictions you place, where the humans would not naturally do so. Sapience will always out-exist non-sapience.

As long as there are

  • resources to be shared
  • in the same ecological niche
  • with danger posed by the non-sapient creatures

Then unless the humans actively choose to protect the creatures, humans will always expand their area, they will always reduce their risk, and they will always (ultimately speaking - war, not individual battles) win.

If it becomes cheaper and more effective to decrease the risk of the alpha predator's attacks through means that doesn't reduce the creature's numbers or territory, then there might possibly be a loophole that would allow both to co-exist. If this is true, though, then they don't really share an ecological niche. If the humans don't affect the food supply, mating capability, or territorial needs of the predator while they continue to expand, then it's hard to claim that they are in the same ecological niche. Similar to sharks and humans, where the shared area is actually very small - yet they are still being hunted (to extinction in some cases) though they pose no real species level threat.

So while the other answers are trying very hard to show artificial ways that this might be possible, I suspect that they are simply ways to separate the niche, and the reality is that ultimately the sapient creatures will have to decide to protect the apex predator.

As such, I predict this would happen in an advanced society which has little need for the products of the predator (industry based on other materials, transportation, etc), and that has experienced extinctions of other animals in the past that are valued.

Even then, though, we'd get the situation we have with black bears, lions and tigers, etc. They are not allowed into our areas except in zoos, and as we expand out habitat we shrink theirs - ultimately leading to the same extinction end. Not unlike Indian reservations, we may leave small protected areas for them, but their DNA diversity is so significantly cut that eventually they die out anyway, or only exist as a former shadow of their previous position on the predator hierarchy.

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  • $\begingroup$ I believe in the In Her Name books mentioned Hicks gave some lip service to explain his dragon's existence after millennia; they were of ceremonial value and the empress outlawed their hunting. The entire sapient race had a min link with the empress and she would instantly know if anyone disobeyed this law. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 22 '15 at 13:03
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They have not gotten around to it yet

Modern humans existed for a long time before dominating everything. At times it was a very small population, or lived more as part of nature. I recall that the Americas were not colonized by humans until after the megafauna was gone or in decline.

It is post-apocalyptic

The dominant species is reduced to small clans trying to survive, after a ecological collapse. It's still intelligent, but not on top.

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  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough, although post apocalyptic isn't what I had in mind....this brings up the question of how the beast was not eradicated before the apocalypse.... $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 21 '15 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ "Beasts" might be controlled but not extinct, or might quickly radiate into the new niches. Early agrarian cultures had trouble battling rats, and they are still around. Don't forget, bees kill more people than lions and sharks combined. Mosquitoes are disease vectors. Don't assume the competition is "large". Cavemen killed mammoths, piece of cake. Mosquitoes killed humans, and still do. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz May 21 '15 at 23:51
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The animal species is extremely secretive.

I live in a part of the world where there are a lot of cougars. Despite being a large predator, and of sufficient number, sightings are rare, that's because cougars are very secretive and stealthy.

Suppose this large animal race was the master of stealth, quiet as a cat, and could camouflage itself like a chameleon, or an octopus. They prey on people in the outskirts of civilization, but because they're so secretive and elusive it's next to impossible to hunt them or even detect them, like trying to hunt a ghost or a shadow. Sightings are rare, but the reality of their existence is attested by conspicuous disappearances, or the eventual discoveries of devoured remains.

Living in an extreme habitat that they only leave in order to hunt could make it difficult for a sapient species to hunt them as well. Suppose the animals lived deep in the earth, or at the bottom of deep rifts in the ocean, or in the death zones of high mountain ranges. If the sapient species had to risk death simply by entering the animals habitat, even without even encountering the animal it would deter or hinder most efforts to eradicate them.

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Soo... you want to kill a dragon my friend? Beware of the Dragons curse...

First, that's no easy task battling yourself with those viscous beasts. But even if you manage to mortally wound it and escape its dying berserker rage, the Curse of the Dragon-Blood will still get you. When the Dragon finally ends his dying rage and slams into the ground, the unholy flames in his belly will start to boil and transform the massive husk into an inflating balloon. Filled with all kinds of toxic fumes and acids, it will reach the size of a house and erupt in an ugly explosion. The land will be tainted several acres around for years to come, the dying plants and brazen earth will mark the dragons deathbed for generations. And everyone around, be it hunters or simple people from the next village will die in days or weeks, spitting out their intestines.

If the dragons contain a source to breath fire, they will have some pretty weird and life-threatening unstable mix of chemicals in their system. An uncontrolled reaction at the time of dead could spread a mix of deadly toxic chemicals over the land and release a huge cloud of radioactive dust, which will settle over the surrounding lands and rain down in the following days. The earth and water will be contaminated and most people breathing the dust or eating/drinking it will die. Most animals and plants around will also suffer and the land could be unusable for some time afterwards.

Even a society with our technological level will have problems to kill these Dragons and control the reaction. The best way is to protect yourself and find ways to fend them off and send them away without killing them. If they also live very remote and only sometimes come close to society, it will not be very profitable to hunt them. Furthermore that they won't provide any trophies or leather like wolves.

Dragons which get old and feel their death approaching could have a natural instinct like elephants and throw themselves into a volcano or something, which is far off from most life and will prohibit the toxic substances from entering the ecosystem.

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  • $\begingroup$ "They won't provide any trophies or leather" Dragon scales. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 22 '15 at 12:46
  • $\begingroup$ Radioactive, toxic scales from an exploded carcass in a puddle of acid ? $\endgroup$ – Falco May 22 '15 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ More expensive to get :) Scavengers with protective gear could always come in after the dragon-bomb blows. They then clean the scales (shouldn't be too hard) and sell them. They will be worth money b/c they are rare and hard to get. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 22 '15 at 12:58
  • $\begingroup$ But also most likely illegal, if killing a Dragon is illegal, because of the tainted land and possible deaths of many people and ecological impact. If you sell a scale you will be questioned how you obtained it. So better sell them on the black market ;-) $\endgroup$ – Falco May 22 '15 at 13:23
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The dragons live somewhere else

Suppose that there is another continent somewhere, which has not yet been heavily colonised by humans. There are three reasons why it hasn't been colonised: firstly because it's very inhospitable to us (e.g. cold, like antartica or Siberia, or almost entirely mountains, or a desert with very poor soil for agriculture, or impenetrable rainforest), secondly because it's inaccessible (e.g. not on regular shipping routes, few places to build ports or airstrips), and thirdly because it's crawling with huge, dangerous, fire-breathing dragons.

On this continent the dragons can breed and eat whatever they eat, free from interference by humans. But since they can fly vast distances, the largest and most fearsome specimens have a tendency leave the continent and settle elsewhere, often much closer to populated areas. When this happens they usually are eventually wiped out by the local humans, but more will always come.

The humans could decide to wipe out the dragons from their natural environment, but this would be a hugely expensive undertaking, akin to waging a sustained intercontinental war. Perhaps the other factors people have mentioned come into play in their deciding not to: the dragons are useful in some way, or people just don't want to wipe out such a unique species.

Of course it doesn't have to be a separate continent, just a separate niche where humans won't compete. Perhaps most dragons live only on the tops of huge mountains, or in caverns deep beneath the Earth, or on the Moon. Or they live in the same places as humans, but the vast majority are not man-eaters or livestock-eaters, and tend to live peacefully alongside us without competing. As long as they occupy separate ecological niches most of the time, the two species should be able to coexist.

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If the intelligence of the dragon is similar to the humans, then there are two factors to take into account:

  • Does this being have an opposed finger? What gives us humans the capacity to be above any other animal is not just the intelligence, but the fact that we can build things and use things very efficiently because of our thumb. Dolphins are very intelligent (I think we don't even know how much) but they can't use objects nor create new ones.
  • The other factor in case it has thumbs is... How advanced is its technology? I've seen you've paired his technology to ours, so now the problem becomes the same as the one we humans have right now with different human races/religions... Will humans and dragons be able to coexist or they will destruct each other? (right now our technollogy allows us to selfdestruct human race -nuclear technollogy-)
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The large animal race is intellectually superior to the sapient race.

Suppose the dragon-like creatures had a sophisticated society, but it was their desire, or in their best interest to co-exist with the sapient race (humans are their food source). The sapient race is inferior to the dragon-like species technologically, or in might, so they submit themselves to the dragon-like race, and are allowed to live in peace and prosper so long as they deliver goods such as livestock or a "quota" of people (criminals, convicts, the frail, elderly, slaves, etc...) to the Dragon-like species as food.

An episode of Stargate Atlantis come to mind: Atlantis discovered a world that was very technologically advanced, a stark contrast from the rest of the preimitive worlds that were frequently culled by the advanced wraith species which preyed on humans, and eradicated any civilization in the galaxy that advanced to the point where they might pose a threat. It was discovered that the technologically advanced world had an agreement with one particular wraith who spared the majority of the population in exchange for "offerings". Essentially this society dealt with convicts by exiling them to an island where the wraith could easily cull them, but it didn't take much to be convicted of a crime (In order to meet their quota).

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  • $\begingroup$ To have a society, you must first be somewhat intelligent. I believe I made it clear in the comments that the Dragons would not be extremely intelligent, so to speak. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat May 21 '15 at 21:35

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