The Battle At Kruger: These Water Buffalo Are NOT Darwinists

Here is a YouTube video I saw recently with a friend. Its pretty amazing. It isn’t your typical “When Animals Attack” video. Check it out (and turn the sound down if you don’t want the colorful commentary.)

Some Notes:

Richard Dawkins writes about the “selfish gene” – his words, not mine. He makes a great argument. He’s a very intelligent man. And the Selfish Gene is a comment on natural selection. Dawkins argues, and the majority of evolutionary biologists today concur, that natural selection selects, not for a population or species or individual organism, but for a gene. Its almost as if the gene itself is selfish and wants to reproduce itself in the next generation.

If the gene is for a desirable trait – a beneficial protein – that increases the chances of reproduction for the organism that carries it, then that gene will be naturally selected for.  Over time, that gene will persist in the population.  That gene may increases an organism’s survival rate by making it run faster or increase its reproductive rate by making it more attractive to a mate or increase its ability to thrive in its environment by allowing it to digest a different food source.  But if the gene is a negative factor, then it will be lost.  Now its not the gene itself that is lost, but the population that carries it.  

For example if there are two populations of an organism, and one has a gene that allows it to blend in with its surroundings while the other has a gene that makes it stand out, the theory goes that the one that blends in will reproduce more young.  It will thrive meanwhile the other population will die out.  Thus it is the gene that is reproduced and essentially stays alive throughout many generations.

This mechanism is commonly referred to as the survival of the fittest.  A good gene would allow survival if it aided in the four Fs – feeding, fleeing, fighting or … reproducing.  (so says Patricia Churchland in almost as many words).  Survival of the Fittest makes a lot of sense.  The one who runs best from the lion or the tiger or whatever the case may be, will survive to reproduce again, and thus continue the line.

Dawkins argues, and most evolutionary biologists concur, that this idea of acting for the benefit of the population is hogwash – my word, not his.  It is not populations that want to survive.  It is genes.

If you’ve watched the video, The Battle at Kruger, you will see something quite amazing, in light of this reasoning.  You will see water buffalo putting themselves in the way of danger, stepping up to fight lions – the most fierce-some of the the wild beasts – on behalf of another.  

These buffalo seem to have forgotten that the world operates on Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest (note the sarcasm).  They are not killing the lions so that they will never be bothered again by the pesky cats.  They are merely running them off, one at a time.  How long will it be before these hunters regroup and attack again?  No one can say.  But chances are, it will be much sooner if they are hungry than it would have been if they had just devoured a nice juicy buffalo.  Chances are the herd would be further away had they run from the lions and left their calf to the jaws of its predator.  

But alas, it seems that these buffalo have forgotten the rules of nature.  It seems that there isn’t a darwinist in the entire herd.

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Published in: on September 28, 2008 at 9:03 pm  Comments (3)  
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