We are all well aware of the impact of people on animals. We have domesticated some, farmed others, and driven many to extinction. Humans have been the single greatest contributing factor to the livelihood of animals. Animals too have been a huge contributing factor to the lives of humans. Those who had a plentiful supply of animals grew stronger and achieved more in the early settlement civilizations. Those who could farm animals progressed even further. Animals and people have lived in some form of balance for thousands of years. One question that is only starting to be explored, is what impact did the disappearance of an animal species have on humans?
The first impact is obvious, people will, in theory, be hungrier. Animals provide human sustenance and if an animal species is removed it means less food is available and therefore, less sustenance. However, the human-animal relationship is much more complex than that. Animals were not just hunted they were held in high regard by early civilizations.
Tel Aviv University recently examined hunter-gather societies at different points in history. These studies dated as far back as 400,000 years and as close as the present day. In all ten cases, the relationship was revealed to be far more than one dimensional. In all cases, there were examples of physical, existential, spiritual, and emotional ties.
It showed that when an animal disappeared through extinction or migration it had a considerable impact on human life. At the most superficial level, human’s relied on animals for so much in their life. A key animal in an ecosystem likely provided food, clothing, tools, fuel, and more. The wooly mammoth is a great example. 40,000 years ago the people of Siberia relied heavily on the wooly mammoth. When the mammoth became extinct in this part of the world it had a huge impact on the human population. Their way of life had to change dramatically. In the end, it led to their migration away from Siberia and over to Alaska. The extinction of the wooly mammoth led to the first settlers of Alaska.
Going back even further, 400,000 years ago prehistoric settlers hunted elephants in Israel. When the elephants died out they became focused on the deer population. This change in prey altered their physical state. People no longer needed to be big and strong to hunt elephants, they need to be quick and work in groups to hunter deer.
In addition to this, there is an extreme emotional response as well. Today we all still feel a deep connection to nature. When the Amazon rainforest was on fire many people felt saddened. In history too, we see an emotional connection to the loss of animals. Evidence suggests that they were seen as partners in the world and were deeply appreciated.
Many years later when an animal species was long extinct, future generations were still engraving caves with the images of these animals. This shows how important a role they placed in the ideas and minds of societies. Even many generations after they departed they were still remembered.
Researchers believe that the loss of these animals may have provided a lot of guilt to people as well. It likely thought them lessons about how to manage animal existence better but it still must have caused shame. If they had some part to play in the extinction of these animals, the same animal that provided life to the generations that came before them, it would have been a difficult loss to take. The new research shows the incredible balance between nature and man. It highlights how this balance has existed for many years and has continued to evolve.