I've heard in a lecture about protection of primates that one reason the classical population dynamics doesn't work is that the aboriginal hunters tend to hunt the big, strong and healthy individuals that have the best chance of becoming a successful parent.

Is this effect really so significant that it outweighs the fact that the hunters don't have to hunt so many of them in order to get the same amount of meat?

[Additional explanation]:

This question asks about the best strategy in protecting rare wild animal species against excessive hunting. We don't have to intervene when lions hunt zebras because less zebras means less food for lions - so the ratio of zebras and lions doesn't change much so there's no danger of any species getting extinct. Unlike the natural predators and prey, it has been found that the amount of meet hunted by people in forests isn't anyhow dependant on the number of animals living in the nature because humans use tools which give them a huge advantage over the "prey". Also, number of people living in a forest isn't dependent on the sources in the wild, due to the rise of agriculture.

There was a research how much is the size of an animal connected to the probability a hunter will hunt specifically this animal and it has been found that the hunters tend to pick the physically biggest, strongest and healthiest individuals. This phenomenon has been marked as dangerous for the future preservation of wild species because (that's my guess) the most healthy and strong are the most likely to rear healthy offspring. I said to myself that from what I've learned about evolution, the difference between the physical fitness of an individual feed by a less strong parent (compared to the rest of the population) and an individual feed by a stronger parent can't be so big that it overweighs the fact that when a hunter hunts smaller animals, he's more likely to hunt more of them (That's something that has been studied) so the overall number of hunted animals is actually bigger. So my question is, wheter I'm correct or wheter the factor of the bigger number of animals you hunt when you hunt small animals actually isn't as important as the fact that healthy and strong parents will rear healthy and strong offspring.

  • $\begingroup$ For some reason I have a difficulty understanding your question... as if one variable is missing.. can you clarify? in what relation is hunting big animals dangerous to which species? the species being hunted or us humans? one thing could for example be if you look at sweden... the bigger the animal, the bigger the offspring. how likely would it be for a wolf to attack a big moose, rather than a small moose? maybe it has something to do with the species being able to protect itself? $\endgroup$
    – user27740
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Hallur I edited the question to make it clearer. Yes, the animals are endangered by the hunters who kill them. $\endgroup$
    – Probably
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 19:57
  • $\begingroup$ keep in mind primates take a long time to reproduce and reach maturity, many times when you kill a parent you are also killing living but not fully grown offspring, and for many primates it can also destabilize the society as well, which hurts everyone and can cause more subsequent deaths. The largest healthiest primate tend to also be the highest standing in the trope, so killing them can trigger infighting and infanticide. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 7:08
  • $\begingroup$ @John Oh yes, the nutritional differences can definitely play a role. It just seems to me that when you kill an animal before its reproductive age, you affect the nature much more. $\endgroup$
    – Probably
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 8:27
  • $\begingroup$ Size is not the same thing as as age, primates can vary quite a bit in size and health independent of age. the biggest in not automatically the oldest. in an interdependent social species the rank of the individual has other effects. think of it like the difference between the president dying and a homeless guy dying while both are regrettable one has a much stronger effect on the rest of the population. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Commented Nov 25, 2016 at 16:15

1 Answer 1


I can see two different sides to this question.

On one side,

From Darwin's Theory of Evolution, the more adapted you are, the better chance at reproducing you will have, thus passing on your genes.

"Survival of the fittest" is a phrase that originated from Darwinian evolutionary theory as a way of describing the mechanism of natural selection. The biological concept of fitness is defined as reproductive success.

In this case, you hunt the fittest, strongest animals that can procreate and protect their descendants, leaving the weakest alive. The weakest may not be able to continue the lineage because of their weakest gene pool and the species existence could be at stake.

On the other side,

A reputated Oxford Zoologist, Richard Dawkins wrote:

We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes

In this particular example, being strong, fit and healthy could be interpreted as being unfit for evolution, since it attracts predators (humans) to kill, as would not be the case for medium sized less meaty healthy individuals. The true adaptation that could make the specie survive in this case is via the weakest members that are not worth the effort to be hunted but still can survive other threats.

There is several more viewpoints that could be described knowing more details about exactly which animals, their environnement, the other predators and the exact contribution of the "healthy strongest" specimens you described as being hunted.

Nevertheless, hunting animals can always endanger the specie depending on the frequency of the hunt, frequency of the animal reproduction and several other factors, so can many other human behaviors.

Source: The selfish gene - Richard Dawkins (Book)

  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, you got it wrong. When I wrote that it is dangerous for the species when the hunters hunt the stronger individuals more often, I didn't mean it could cause troubles due to the selective pressure, I meant that when a parent is healthy and strong, it probably doesn't lack nutrients himself, so it can't fully concentrate its effort towards providing food for the offspring. Also there is a better chance the offspring will even born and grow up healthy. $\endgroup$
    – Probably
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Probably"when a parent is healthy and strong, it probably doesn't lack nutrients himself, so it can't fully concentrate its effort towards providing food for the offspring" This makes no sense. Your comment is as clear as your question was before Hallur's edit... $\endgroup$
    – Dart Feld
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Probably I answered the question "Why is hunting big animals more dangerous for the species?". Evolution has it's say in this because it will truly determine the degree at which hunting the big animals affects the survival of the specie (i.e the "dangerouseness for the specie"). Take it as an answer in the long time, this can be discussed a lot since it isn't a specific scenario that can be studied but rather a general question. $\endgroup$
    – Dart Feld
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ It was my edit and I'm not talking about evolutionary disadvantage, I'm talking about disadvantage in physical fitness (yes, it is being passed on from parent to offspring as well to a certain extent.) $\endgroup$
    – Probably
    Commented Nov 24, 2016 at 23:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Probably I think you are misunderstanding the lecture you heard. If the lecturer was talking about fitness, they almost certainly meant it in an evolutionary context. If you hunt the strongest animals, you are culling those who have been most successful in their environment. Leaving behind only the evolutionarily weaker animals means that the next generation may be weaker as well. Smaller animals could also be young/not sexually mature, so you reduce a population's rate of reproduction by taking out the animals that would otherwise have the best chance to reproduce successfully. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 1:15

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