“Wild animals never kill for sport. Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself.” James Anthony Froude (British historian, 1818-1894)

Is this statement factually correct? Have there been any research conducted which help support or disprove this statement?

I did find a few answers via google, but they're mostly from different internet forums and feel insubstantial.


After reading the comments, I realized that it's difficult to define precisely what "pleasure" means. So, I'm going to rephrase my question to: "Are humans the only animals that kill for purposes other then food, survival, or other basic necessities?"

If I understand correctly, the quote at the top of this question is assuming that animals kill only for survival (obtaining food, self defense, etc). I would like to know if there are any specific counter-examples where animals do appear to kill for reasons other then survival.

  • 21
    This is tricky to answer, because you can't just ask an animal if it killed something for funsies. Housecats definitely kill things they don't intend to eat or present to their owners, though, so presumably they feel as if some benefit is derived from doing so.
    – Tacroy
    Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 18:50
  • 2
    Is this a question about "motive" (Politics, beliefs and motivations questions should not be allowed here.)?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 19:07
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    @ChrisW - I agree that this is extremely borderline and might be very hard to answer unless what "pleasure" is much more tightly defined (e.g. not eating the kill.)
    – rjzii
    Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 19:37
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    Can you define exactly what you are considering "pleasure" for the purposes of this question? As it stands now, this is going to be a hard question to answer since you have to prescribe motivations to animals.
    – rjzii
    Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 19:38
  • 1
    @commenters: I rephrased my question to remove/de-emphasize the portions about pleasure and motive and tried to make it easier to answer. (And if I made another mistake, I apologize in advance) Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 19:56

4 Answers 4

  • Dolphins

    From a National Geographic Special on Dolphins:

    "But beneath the harmony lies a darker side of dolphins. Gangs of strong males pick on younger or smaller dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins are even known to kill for reasons other than hunger.

    As a caveat, I was NOT able to find that quote directly from NG online, only other sites quoting it.

  • Chimps

    Their reasons for such killings have long been a source of debate among zoologists, but the aftermath of the Ngogo murders reveals an important clue. After the chimps picked off their neighbours, they eventually took over their territory. It seems that chimps kill for land.

    (source: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2010/06/21/chimpanzees-murder-for-land/)

  • 8
    Killing for reasons other than a need for food doesn't mean they kill for no reason. Many species will for example kill for breeding rights (especially if the competitor doesn't flee), male lions kill the cubs of competitors to drive the mothers into heat they take over a pride, etc. etc.
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 6:41
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    @jwenting For that matter I am skeptical of the claim that humans kill for no reason. Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 20:33
  • Surely the chimps example is one of chimps killing for land, as it says - not for pleasure or no purpose? Territorial fighting is, I believe, pretty common in nature. Commented Aug 28, 2015 at 10:39
  • the problem is that the definition of 'for no reason' is so grey and thus prone to moving the fence posts. If a cat chases a mouse around when it isn't hungry it does it for fun, rather or not that 'fun' is due to an instinct to help practice it's hunting skills. If the mouse dies of exhaustion after being chased and the cat does not eat it did the killing have a purpose? Some would argue yes, however, if you accept "allowed something to die because it's evolution taught it to act in a way that lead to the creature dieing" then humans have a purpose in every death we cause as well.
    – dsollen
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 20:23

Elephants have been known to murder rhinoceroses, apparently for no better reason that "to test their strength" (although the exact reason isn't known for certain).

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.

  • competition for scarce food resources may also have more than a little to do with this... Though of course that won't make it into a TV ready documentary, a style that tries to anthropomorphize animals, give them human characteristics, because that's what the intended audience understands and likes to see.
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 6:45
  • @jwenting if food competition pressures were involved, it would stand to reason that this behavior would be more common when entire herds were involved. However, given that the motivation is speculative, it is definitely possible that you are correct.
    – Beofett
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 12:05

Dogs are said to sometimes kill for "fun":


A pack of dogs has killed about 100 animals in the past three months in northeastern Washington state while eluding law enforcement and volunteers. ... Authorities are warning residents to take whatever steps are necessary to protect their families and animals because the dogs appear to be killing for fun rather than food. No humans have been attacked, but officers fear that could happen.


Dogs are the only animal that definitely kills for sport, but that's only because humans taught them to do so. When a farmer finds a few dead chickens killed during the daylight hours with no missing body parts, the neighbor's dog is almost always the culprit.

Of course, they could be doing this entirely because their innate prey drive tells them to, perhaps to stay in good practice for hunting. So it's difficult to say if it's really just "for fun" or if staying in practice when food is plentiful helps hone their hunting skills for when food is scarce.

  • 3
    I've heard stories of fox, lynx and other predators kill much more than they eat. Many farmers talks about how foxes have killed whole flocks of hen, and then just leave them. Predators usually doesn't kill more than necessary, because that takes extra energy, but what if the prey doesn't run away? They can just kill and kill and kill, while more prey still is around.
    – Wertilq
    Commented Apr 17, 2013 at 7:24
  • @Wertilq Raccoons too. They like to bite chicken heads off then leave, in my experience.
    – user11643
    Commented Aug 26, 2019 at 22:42

Kill for pleasure or no purpose? If you're thinking the animal equivalent Manslaughter (without intent) just imagine an elephant walking to a watering hole and crushing a bug on the way there. Or thinking smaller. Imagine an animal eating fruit of a tree. This might alter the ph balance in it's gut "killing" millions of bacteria in its gut. I remember as a child finding a dead cat beside a cow. The cat had slept next to the cow for warmth and the cow rolled over during the night.

Animal murder (killing with intent, but not for "reasons other than survival")? Think of an animal rubbing it's back or sides against a rock or flicking its tail to rid itself of parasites. Or something like an elephants ear splatting a mosquito. I guess this can be filed under killing for pleasure.

Another case of animal murder for reasons other than survival would be Cecil and Jerico the lions:

ZCTF chairman Johnny Rodrigues said: "The saddest part of all is that now that Cecil is dead, the next lion in the hierarchy, Jericho, will most likely kill all Cecil's cubs."

There's a whole lot of killing out there. Some with intent, most without.

  • 2
    None of them can be considered as purely "pleasure" in the same vein that a human "sport hunting" can. The elephants killing mosquitoes and the lion killing rival cubs all directly improve their fitness, which quite clearly fall under "basic necessities".
    – March Ho
    Commented Aug 27, 2015 at 11:37

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