In the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, there's a passage that claims "Takers" (i.e. modern man) are the only thing in nature that hunt down competitors, destroy or otherwise deny someone else food. Are there strong arguments to be made that other animals exhibit the same behavior?

"you may compete to the full extent of your capabilities, but you may not hunt down competitors or destroy their food or deny them access to food. In other words, you may compete but you may not wage war." All species inevitably follow this law, or as a consequence go extinct. The Takers believe themselves to be exempt from this Law and flout it at every point.

I'm disqualifying Kleptoparasitism which directly benefits the thief as an answer. There's no need to make a case about animals that do all 3 of the above mentioned things, refuting one of them is enough.

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    If this is indeed what the book claims then this is yet another example of why so few natural scientists take philosophers seriously (which is a tragedy). Would it have hurt to consult with a zoologist beforehand? Commented Mar 22, 2011 at 13:07
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    I have to comment to correct a trend among these answers. I've read the book, and the "wage war" in the answers is not what the book is talking about. All these answers (except the ants, and perhaps the cat?) mention animals which wage war amongst themselves, which is not the point. The book suggests that other animals don't go out of their way to eradicate competing species, which we definitely do. Note "hunt down competitors" in the quote.
    – Tesserex
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 14:18
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    @Tesserex: You apparently didn't read the reference to the war between lions and hyenas in my answer below.
    – oosterwal
    Commented Mar 24, 2011 at 22:14
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    @Tesserex: "hunt down competitors" But other men are competitors for men, other cats for cats. Or what am I missing here? Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 6:51
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    I understand, but from the introduction of Kit, you still don't know, whether the claim is of competitors of the same, of some or just of other species. Perhaps it should be clarified there. Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 14:17

5 Answers 5


Ants are remarkable for waging war and enslaving and cultivating other species.

You may also be interested in a paper documenting ants being hostile to their neighbors.

  • This is precisely the animal I was thinking of when I read this question.
    – anthony137
    Commented Mar 22, 2011 at 1:18
  • And cats sometimes kills birds for pleasure / playing
    – borjab
    Commented May 1, 2022 at 18:30
  • The link to springerlink.com is broken. I'm also unable to find any snapshot saved on the Wayback Machine.
    – user66009
    Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 16:44

Lion vs. Hyena (Interspecific War)

Lions and hyenas have been waging war against each other for as long as humans have observed the interaction between them.

During the spring of 1999, a set of battles raged between a cackle of hyenas and a pride of lions in the Girawa woreda of Ethiopia. A report from the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - Ethiopia (UN OCHA-Ethiopia) reported that when the described round of battles were finished 35 hyenas and 6 lions had been killed. One local reported that the war between these two groups had started 45 year before "when a lion escaped from Emperor Haile Selassie's palace menagerie in Harar and wreaked havoc on a hyena family."

In their book Hunting with the Moon, author/explorer/filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Jouberts document ongoing battles between lions and hyenas in Botswana. A quote from that book indicates that "anyone who watches a violent contact between lions and hyenas, one that is not related to food, can see plainly that there is a blood feud between them that is uncannily similar to those at which our own species is so adept."

Wolf vs. Wolf (Intraspecific War)

In Yellowstone National Park (USA), there are several distinct packs of wolves that have known territories and sometimes wage war against each other. They also participate in hunting parties that sometimes lead them to 'steal' a moose or bison from a competing pack's territory.

The PBS documentary series Nature followed the fate of one Yellowstone wolf pack in the episode In the Valley of the Wolves. The episode transcript reports that "in 2004, the Druids [name of wolf pack] once again suffered terrible losses; longtime alpha female #42 was killed by members of a rival pack, and the aging patriarch was found dead in the summer. At the same time, however, the neighboring Slough Creek pack began to spend more time on the northwestern boundary of Druid territory. Their incursions into Druid turf culminated in a decisive battle in 2005 that ousted the formerly dominant Druid wolves from the Lamar Valley. Two adult female Druids died that year — one killed by the Sloughs — and no pups survived. The pack was reduced to just four members, and looked to be nearing its end."

The Wikipedia entry for wolves indicates that 14 - 65% of wolf deaths can be attributed to predation by other wolves, and that up to 91% of wolf deaths occur within 3.5 km of the respective pack's territorial boundaries. (Supporting references for cited figures are provided as reference numbers [90], [92], and [93] on the linked web page.)


The claim is false.

For an example in higher primates, consider chimpanzees who are capable of premeditated murder for no apparent reason. There are even videos of this.

They murder, they steal, they even wage war for territorial gains.

None of these acts necessarily has any direct benefit. The benefits may either be long-term (territorial warfare) or not apparent at all.


Elephants have been known to murder rhinoceroses.

The rhino killings stopped, and the case appears closed. But scientists are left to figure out the most baffling question of all: What motivated these elephants to behave in such a savage and uncharacteristic fashion?

The answers they are coming up with would not surprise criminology students in the United States. They also offer no real assurances that the rhinos are out of danger.

In the late 1970s Pilanesberg became a pioneer in the restocking of animals. Baby elephants that would have been marked for slaughter in other parks (as part of the annual cull to keep elephant populations manageable) were moved instead to Pilanesberg along with two adult females to care for them.

Mothers normally drive male elephants from the herd once they reach adulthood. Males start drifting away around age 15, eventually linking up with other groups of male elephants led by a patriarch.

But now that Pilanesberg's elephants are reaching adolescence, there are no adult males for them to follow. Thus, they have become juvenile delinquents deprived of adult supervision or role models.

"There are no adult bulls around to keep them in check," Stuart-Hill said. "So they're highly aggressive and are testing their strength on other animals."


He prefers a biological explanation: the sudden surge of hormones in adolescent elephants that produces aggressive behavior normally controlled by older males.

If he is right, the killings might have stopped only because the mating season ended. He conceded that three innocent elephants might have been killed and that the problem could resurface next year when the mating season resumes.

The white rhino, hunted to the brink of extinction earlier this century by humans, then would be facing a new threat to its existence from bands of unruly, juvenile-delinquent elephants.

  • +1, but I think in the context of the question that would be considered an "unnatural" state created by people.
    – Raedwald
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 13:45
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    @Raedwald I had considered that, but felt that if it is simply a case of excessive hormones coupled with an absence of older male elephants, as the one theory holds, then this is a state that can easily occur without "unnatural" intervention by humans.
    – Beofett
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 13:47
  • And destroy habitat too.
    – user11643
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 19:00

Infanticide is widely documented in animals, for instance in primates, birds and even insects. A common reason is a new male killing offspring sired by a displaced competitor.

  • It's very common in large, carnivorous mammals. Bears, especially polar bears stand out, as well as walrus.
    – user11643
    Commented May 31, 2016 at 19:01

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