Ecological dominance: turtles

Nowadays, humans aren’t much concerned about being devoured.  We may have to worry  about blowing ourselves up, or being blotted out by an asteroid strike, but we don’t worry much about lions and tigers and bears.
But it was not always thus.

Three million years ago, we were more prey than predator.  Africa was predator-rich, more so than anywhere today, with familiar beasties such as leopards, lions, and hyenas, but also bears, three kinds of saber-toothed cats, and giant otters. Judging from the chewing marks and punctures in australopithecus skulls,  leopards were the biggest threat.

Something like two and half million years ago, we began to turn the the tables. The first sign of our new status was the disappearance of Africa’s giant tortoises. Conventional predators just couldn’t get through their shells, but we could, presumably by
throwing or dropping rocks.

First, we drove them extinct in Africa. Next, homo erectus expanded out of Africa about two million years ago and wiped out the giant tortoises of India and Indonesia. Later, after modern humans developed boats/rafts and Arctic survival techniques, we eliminated the tortoises of Australia and the Americas.  In recent millennia, better navigation led to turtle massacres in Madagascar and other islands.

Today giant tortoises are only found in out-of-the-way places like Aldabra and the Galapagos Islands – and we nearly killed them off.

Man took his first step towards ecological dominance on the back of a giant turtle.

The question is, do we have to worry about payback?

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15 Responses to Ecological dominance: turtles

  1. dearieme says:

    No worries – this is what you need.

  2. Gorbachev says:

    How dare an animal be so defenceless and so slow and so delicious.

  3. Don Strong says:

    REf for giant tortoise disappearance from Africa please. I want to use it in my class. Thanks.Don

  4. rjp says:

    The low hanging fruit eaten until near extinction. Hard to believe that at one point humans were all so primitive that there was no sport or domestication involved in providing food, just club the slowest animal over the head. But then we only need to look back 150 years to the near extinction of the Bison …. and that was not even for food.

  5. rjp says:

    Anybody ever eaten turtle?

  6. j says:

    In China.Tastes like fish. It was supposed to be aphrodisiac. Maybe that is the reason our ancestors liked turtles so much.

  7. dave chamberlin says:

    In a past life I was trampled by turtles. Mollusks were just waiting for some crafty preditor to use a rock to smash them open. At the same time we began nut cracking turtles the world became our oyster as well. Those tasty critters like turtles that lived long and reproduced slowly and in few numbers were the first to go extinct.

    Doesn’t this new information that we drove a number of species extinct starting two and a half million yeares ago contradict the common perception that hominids were few in number in this time frame?

  8. j says:

    No. Those improved apes were few in number but had an unsatiable appetite for sex and aphrodisiacs. Oysters may have been decimated too.

  9. baloocartoons says:

    Delicious. This is linked and beautifully illustrated here:

  10. hex says:

    “Conventional predators just couldn’t get through their shells, but we could, presumably by
    throwing or dropping rocks.”

    Friday, or, The Other Island (French: Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique), novel by French writer Michel Tournier that retells Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, has a description how Friday puts a big turtle on his back in fire place or on red hot coals -the heat straightens out the shell and allows Friday to cut ligaments between the dorsal and ventral shells.

    It’s a horrible description, the turtle being alive during the operation, and it’s about the only thing I remember from the book. Would it work? I don’t think the author invented the technique himself but read it somewhere.

    But apparently African Giant turtle massacre is older than the oldest documented human made fire places …but possibly Homo erectus could have opportunistically used fire occurences and stone tools to do this.

  11. Greying Wanderer says:

    necromantic comment but this sort of thing might imply that it was a coastal seafood getting version of the Bushmen who first expanded out of Africa around the coasts to China.

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