Most fantasy worlds have large creatures living in a world with humans and other races. In Tamriel, the province of Skyrim has giants, mammoth and even dragons roaming freely. The Lord of the ring have oliphants and ents. In dungeon and dragon, there is the tarasque and all sort of other gigantic creatures. We could also imagine a world where large dinosaurs still exist.

My problem is that, in human history, large predators were always the first to suffer form this cohabitation. Tigers and lions get chased partly because they threaten the livestock and the lives of the people. Even the efforts form NGO and governments are not enough to secure the survival of some of these species. In the case of dragons, they would be in competition against human societies. They would attack the livestock of nearby villages. I think these creatures will likely suffer the same fate as Earth's large predators. Humans will come to have the upper hand because they are more numerous and they have access to advanced tools and techniques. Since they consider the other creatures as a threat/rival, they will chase it to extinction. The extinction of the species is a real possibility from over hunting.

Can I make a credible world (believable food chain) with large creatures roaming around with a ruined economy, a drunken king and corrupted officials à la Game of Thrones? Or are the creatures doomed to extinction?

Examples of creatures:

Dragons

Griffons

Mammoth (number 1)

  • Most of these can be tame or used as mount.
  • They are not evil but do have a survival instinct that might conflict with humans.
  • Most are not really intelligent but dragons are usually more intelligent than humans and can breath fire (some might breath something else but that's a detail).

Other creature could include: Ogres, Giants ...

But these have some intelligence and can't be tamed. they could be at least 3-4m tall for the Ogres but even taller for the giants.

  • "dragons are usually more intelligent than humans"? – Dan Dascalescu Feb 8 '15 at 9:03
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    @DanDascalescu : I can't tell if it's generalized to all the Fantasy but it was the case in most setting I've read about. – Vincent Feb 8 '15 at 15:50
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Here are the 4 Fs you will need to ensure for any creature: Fight, Flight, Feeding, Fu- Reproduction. Although in this case, fight and flight are not too important and those are details you should be able to flesh out yourself.

Feeding

Well, the first big problem with large creatures is that they will need food. Lots of it. Gargantuan herbivores would have to consume large swathes of vegetation to be able to feed themselves, so they should not be in large packs. Gargantuan carnivores would be a bigger problem, as they not only need to eat a lot of meat, the animals the carnivores eat will also need to eat as well. This means that there either can not be too many of these large creatures, or you will have to introduce more food into the foodchain.

The quickest and simplest way to solve the lack of food is to introduce gigantic plants as well, so your gigantic herbivores can eat them, and then the giant carnivores can eat them. If you do not want quite that many large plants around, and instead want it to be slightly more "fictional", where dragons can swoop down at their leisure and pick off cows, where giants can pick up deers for a quick bite, one funny thing you could then do to increase the number such low level foods for the giant creatures is that you could make them able to do photosynthesis, so there can be large numbers of them, and they would not devastate the nice green fields of the fields.

Another way you could feed your giant creatures is via chemotropy. In real life, most things that use chemotropy are very tiny, and live in dark places like underwater volcanoes. In this fantasy setting, they could literally take boulders off mountains and snack on them, and when they die, they fall over and calcify, turning to stone or something like that.

Reproduction

Many fantastic setting like to depict giant creatures to also have a huge lifespan, as well as not reproduce all too fast, this may become a bit of an issue for you as there is an element of human over hunting that you believe should be an issue. Let me note here that I am going to assume that none of your large fantastic creatures are physical gods, that they can be slain by mortal men.

As such, you will probably want them to breed much faster than they normally would, given their size and age. In real life, the reason why large creatures tend not to breed so often is actually because of the lack of food. If they try to breed like rabbits, then they would not have enough food to feed their young. (No references, sorry) But if you solve their nutrition problem as stated above, they would then reasonably want to breed as fast as they have food to supply their calorific needs.

This kind of situation was similar to what happened to the human race. Once agricultural methods were developed, and there was a large supply of food, the population will then bloom. So actually it is very dependent on the energy available to them, almost like modern human society, where much depends on energy


Now, for cohabitation. The nature of the food chain is that it is more accurately a food web, as things can be eaten by multiple different things, as well as eat multiple different things. So, what this means is that all food chains tend to move to one central, apex predator, which sits at the very top. The problem now is that you want cohabitation, which I will take to mean that there are multiple such predators, that have no natural predators of their own.

The biggest problem then would be they would then be competing for more or less the same resources, so you can either make the resources so endless that there is no need for competition, or maybe you could also make all these creatures live in vastly different biomes, so there is not that much competition. Another thing you could do might be to create an actual apex predator, that is capable of snacking on dragons, griffins and ogres alike. This may then encourage those large creatures to respect one another in fear of a common bigger enemy.

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    Photosynthesis' energy production is too low for any moving creature by quite a few decimal points... – TheSexyMenhir Mar 17 '17 at 9:19

The general rule is that species that compete for ecological niche can survive as long as both also have a separate niche in which they do not compete. For most of the large animals that means being able to live in areas not inhabited by humans. This is because large animals require lots of space and humans have a tendency to fill the areas they inhabit.

Dragons and griffons are often depicted to live in mountainous areas and deserts that can't support large human populations. So large enough such areas could support populations without being significantly threatened by humans until trophy hunting becomes common place. Same is also true of dragons living in arctic areas or large swamps.

Mammoths and oliphants probably live in large open grasslands. You'll note that mammoths are extinct while elephants are not. Last I checked there was still uncertainty about whether extinctions of megafauna were due to humans or changes in climate. Maybe the cause is changes in climate forcing megafauna and humans to compete for range? As far as your question is concerned the important part is having large area available where human population is sparse.

Such areas would act as reservoirs from where the megafauna would spread to new areas made available if human population drops for some reason. It probably requires some minimum level of population to convince something like a dragon or oliphant to stay away from your farms.

So fundamentally it is just a question of having a suitable geography.

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    Curses, you beat me by a minute. Good answer nonetheless. One idea you could have is that there could be such large creatures that do live in human areas, but are either of no nuisance, is elusive or maybe provide some useful materials from themselves, so that the humans know to keep their population in control. Pen in some mammoths, and you could have mammoth cheese. Mammoths go out of control? Mammoth steaks – grimmsdottir Feb 8 '15 at 0:51
  • @grimmsdottir Wow, I started the answer intending to write about the domestication answer, but looking back I totally forgot to actually write that part. I guess it is time to go to bed... – Ville Niemi Feb 8 '15 at 0:56
  • Do not worry, you can go write that tomorrow I guess, good night. – grimmsdottir Feb 8 '15 at 1:02

Huge animals like mammoths weren't driven extinct just because they were large. In addition, they were at the top of the food chain. The problem with things at the top of the food chain is that they aren't evolved to respond well to population pressures. They generally have low birth rates and, for carnivores, often have a limited diet consisting of only the biggest herbivores.

Humans come along and disrupt that balance, spearing all of the generally non-consumed mammoths at a higher rate than any predators and, in the process, starving the kinds of predators that only eat mammoths.

So how does this tie in with having large animals along side of humans? Well, if we consider the sorts of large animals that have survived, they generally have one thing in common: they weren't the biggest baddest badass on the block before people rolled in. Creatures like the American moose, the grizzly bear, and the bison survived people because people came in and, while attacking and killing them, also killed all of their predators. These animals had evolved to occasionally get eaten and regularly get driven away from kills. It didn't really matter to the grizzlies whether it was a band of spear wielding apes or a short faced bear chasing them away: they were used to it happening from time to time and life went on.

The same thing can be true of something like a gryphon. They're huge compared to a person, but what if people came in and drove away the dragons that habitually torched the gryphons and ate their eggs? Humans would replace the dragons as the top predator in the regions and gryphons would slot in below them.

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    Mammoths were herbivores, so they were not at the top of the food chain. – vsz Feb 8 '15 at 12:20
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    Why not? What was eating full grown mammoths? Just because the food chain below them was plants doesn't mean they're not at the top of it. – ckersch Feb 8 '15 at 14:56
  • Humans, for example? – vsz Feb 8 '15 at 15:01
  • Prior to humans, though, I don't think they were generally predated. My point was that animals that do not suffer non-human predation, i.e. those who had previously been at the top of their food chains, are more vulnerable to extinction. – ckersch Feb 8 '15 at 15:12
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    Right, mammoths like elephants don't have natural predators because they are too big. They might still get eaten form time to time though. – Vincent Feb 8 '15 at 15:53

I think there is an easy solution to this problem, so long as you are willing to allow humans to fall back a little on the food chain. If your mythical giant beasts were incredibly dangerous or hardy, humans would be hard pressed to drive them to extinction. Think about it this way: we've been able to kill all our large predators because the average man with a gun was more dangerous than a tiger/lion/bear, but what if it took a small army just to possibly kill a dragon? Teeth like spears, scales like shields and all?

The tricky thing now would be the balancing act. You have to be careful not to make the creatures TOO powerful, otherwise humans might go extinct. Just make sure that there is no way the average community could possibly hope to kill them. Make it so that being a poacher is basically akin to suicide. Overhunting wouldn't be a problem if hunting any such beast were a monumental task worthy of a kingdom's fortune.

The large animals (top predators and herbivores) of the African savannah co-existed with humans (and even with human civilizations) for millennia. The human population couldn't use the savannah effectively enough to drive out the large animals. The large animals also couldn't drive the humans entirely out. Each side was lethal, in its own way, so there was strong survival motive to leave each other alone.

What has changed the balance? 1) Modern science (medicine, agriculture, sanitation, well-digging, etc.), which has increased the human population. 2) Modern firearms and transportation, which allow humans to kill the large animals with impunity.

I think you could profit from studying African empires such as Timbuktu, and the Zulu. There you had large (and sophisticated) empires, with some urban areas, lots of farmland, and some mines and stuff, combined with huge wild areas where the large animals "ruled." It helps if you've got microscopic scourges like malaria and tsetse flies, which the untamable wild herds have more resistance to than the humans.

I think it would also help your world if the huge creatures had some intelligence -- just enough to set up mutually agreed upon boundaries.

Another idea is if there were something about the giant creatures' favored habitat that made it lousy for humans. Earth's oceans are an extreme example. Whales and such rule the oceans because humans tend to drown in it, and because the alternative (dry land) is so much better. That's how Africa's savannahs and jungles used to be (but not so extreme).

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