We've had a few questions where answers state, to a lesser or greater degree, "humans would investigate this ability to figure out how it works" in another creature with abilities not readily scientifically explainable and in-universe explained by magic - for example here and here.

For the purposes of this question, on one side we basically have humans as we know them, on a planet very much similar to Earth (not necessarily humans on Earth, but it could be) and at a technology level similar (but not necessarily identical in every respect) to our own present-day level; and on the other we have creatures that:

  • are sapient, intelligent, biological creatures
  • are predatory, though not necessarily (and most often not) of humans
  • are essentially wilderness-dwelling with minimal to no interaction with humans, and while the odd exceptional individual exists, for their part are generally happy to remain that way
  • rarely (but sometimes) encounter humans, mostly humans who voluntarily venture into said wilderness
  • have little (think perhaps medieval level at most) to no technology, and generally see no need for technology, though they have command of fire; some trade with humans their services for some items of non-electrical technology, while some shun all forms of contact with humans and human technology
  • tend to live in extended family groups, normally made up of anywhere between just a mating pair and a few mating pairs plus their offspring of varying age
  • are voluntary shapeshifters, with one animal-like1 and one human-like form, though the human-like form is distinctive enough that they cannot pass as "humans" except possibly in a tiny number of cases. How they evolved this capability is beside the point of this question (for the purposes of this question, just assume they've always been around and always had this capability).

The creatures in question are intelligent and communicable enough to be able to choose representatives to speak for them as a species, perhaps in the United Nations general assembly or a similar forum, and negotiate with humans. They are also good enough hunters and fighters that for one of most of them to kill one of most of (unarmed) humans is trivial to easy, and few other species of animal pose much of a problem to one or more determined hunter(s) among them. Both of these capabilities are for the most part independent of the current form of the individual; when shapeshifting, they remain the same individual (personality, memories, experiences, physical size, most physical abilities, etc.) but take on a different physical form. These abilities make them great hunting or guarding companions for humans, when they are willing to offer their services to humans. Humans recognize these abilities in them, though few have actually encountered one of these creatures in either form; think perhaps like penguins in the wild and humans.

I want these creatures to (more or less) peacefully coexist with humans, the humans generally accepting that the creatures want to be left to live their own lives, without the humans trying to analyze them apart or restricting them to fenced-in zoos. (The creatures could, however, use their ability to negotiate to enter some sort of worldwide truce including some land, something like one or a few country/countries of their own.)

Without straining suspension of disbelief too much, how can I explain that humans would be leaving such creatures more or less alone, rather than trying to capture them and try to figure out how the shapeshifting works, or trying to simply use them for their own gain?

1. I know that technically humans are animals, even though most humans do not consider themselves to be animals.

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    $\begingroup$ Name one thing currently on earth that humans have decided they do not want to investigate. As a species, we want to know everything about everything. You'd have better luck asking what motivators would deter humans from investigating they want to investigate. $\endgroup$
    – ShemSeger
    May 28, 2015 at 2:23
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    $\begingroup$ Something people often disregard when dealing with other intelligent species: What makes it that we are the ones putting them in zoos, not the other way around? Mutual attempted exploitation could cancel out. I'm picturing each species trying to build a single fence to enclose the other, but they can't curve it inward so they just keep building straight out. $\endgroup$
    – evankh
    May 28, 2015 at 4:32
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    $\begingroup$ What about giving the creatures sufficient ability to resist capture (with ill effects for the would-be captors proportional to the aggressiveness of the attempt) that people realize that attempting to capture the creatures is a bad idea? There need not be anything preventing attempts at passive analysis; indeed, having such attempts yield some limited measure of apparent or genuine success might add interest to the story. $\endgroup$
    – supercat
    May 28, 2015 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Wrap it up in a religion and impose harsh restrictions on 'heresy'. Worked for centuries. $\endgroup$
    – Dancrumb
    May 28, 2015 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ @ShemSeger "As a species, we want to know everything about everything." That just manifestly not true. Most people are poor, hungry, on the edge of starvation (only in the past 50 years has that changed), just want their "rice bowl", and is why agricultural methods have stayed the same for millennia in many places. Only in a few places throughout history have there been flowerings of inquiry, and only among certain specific groups of people. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Dec 11, 2017 at 1:22

31 Answers 31


I know you're trying to find ways to make people not want to research said people, but I don't see that happening. Short making them so dangerous that it's a risk just get near them, I see no way to stop curiosity of people at the level of advancement as ourselves. "They're cursed" won't work anymore. And if they're so dangerous, there will be an argument to just wipe them out.

But I can see ways it be done ethically. It all hangs on if they're seen as "intelligent"

If the beings meet the general definition of "intelligent", which right now only humans meet here on Earth, then protecting them would fall under the basic idea of human rights. There may still be people wanting to discern how their powers work, but there would be a great deal of social pressure to follow the norms of human rights.

Having said that, in such a situation, such research might still be carried out, with the consensual assistance of the race. Assuming we can communicate with them (a key factor of determining intelligence) scientists may find beings willing to donate their bodies for research, or willing to engage in non-invasive tests for some form of payment.

If they are deemed unintelligent, they would be treated as animals. We treat (or at least see) animals VERY differently based on their behavior, how dangerous they are to us, and how cute they are. Trying to convince scientists not to investigate their abilities would likely be about as hard as it is to convince them not to study any other animals abilities. Again, there would be some pressure as to what kind of tests to perform, along the lines of the "animal rights" arguments we see today.

If they behave in the manner you describe, I suspect there would be a fair number of people who would have no problem classifying them as animals, and treating them as such.


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