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Murderous mammals: Think cute and cuddly is harmless? Wrong

Think lions are the most violent mammal? Guess again. HannaLacheta/Pixabay

There are many animals that we look at and think of sweet, cute little creatures unable to do harm. But that’s not necessarily the case.

A study published in the journal Nature lead by Maria Gómez of the University of Granada in Spain, analyzed more than four million animal deaths among 1,024 mammal species. Taking this information, Gomez compared it with findings of 600 studies of human violence that stretched from ancient times to the present day.

READ MORE: Asteroid that killed dinosaurs almost wiped out mammals: study

Gómez found that some animals we often think of as docile are instead rather violent with one another. The most violent is the meerkat (you’ll never look at Timon from The Lion King the same).

It’s not the first time meerkats have been found to be a mammal with murderous tendencies. A 2014 study found that the alpha female ruled their groups by murdering her grandchildren, and used other pretty aggressive tactics.

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Meerkats are so violent between each other that 20 per cent of their deaths are attributed to pregnant meerkats killing the offspring of other meerkats just to make room in the group.

Sure, they look all cute and cuddly, but they’d slit your throat if you were another meerkat. Mike1087/Pixabay

The second most violent mammal is the red-tailed monkey, followed by the blue monkey and various lemurs (Ed Yong of The Atlantic created a nifty chart of mammals most likely to kill their own kind).

When it comes to humans, we’re still pretty violent, but it depends on how you look at it. The authors calculated a baseline murder rate amongst humans to be 1 in 50, meaning that two per cent of early humankind was murdered.

“From the empirical figure of two per cent of deaths by lethal violence in primitive hunter-gatherers, different historical times have had different levels of lethal violence,” Gómez told the Guardian.

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But if you look at deaths among mammals, only about 0.3 per cent are murders. The rate among primates, however, rises to about 2.3 per cent. So if you look at humans compared to mammals, we appear pretty violent. But among primates, we’re slightly more peaceful.

However, evolutionary biologist Mark Pagel who wrote a companion article in Nature disagreed with the study’s findings and concluded that the murder rate among humans is actually 0.01 per cent, which is far less than Gómez’s predictions.

No matter which author is correct, though, at least we’re not as violent as the meerkat.

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