Island tameness (reduced escape behaviour on islands where prey have experienced prolonged relaxation of predation pressure) is known in several taxa, although the relationships between recent predation pressure and escape on islands are poorly known. We investigated escape by numerous populations exposed to differing predation pressure of two sister species of Podarcis lizards in the Balearic Islands. Our main findings are that flight initiation distance was greater in Podarcis pityusensis than Podarcis lilfordi and increased as predation pressure increased in P. pityusensis. Island tameness led to extinction of P. lilfordi on Menorca and Mallorca following anthropogenic introduction of predators; this species is extant only on nearby islets. The lack of relationship between recent predation pressure and flight initiation distance in P. lilfordi indicates that the historically acquired deficit in the ability to adjust escape behaviour to predation pressure still exists. Podarcis pityusensis, which was exposed to greater natural predation pressure before human introduction of predators, survives on Ibiza and Formentera, as well as on islets. Retention of the ability to respond to predation pressure is consistent with our finding that flight initiation distance increases as predation pressure increases among current populations. © 2012 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, ••, ••–••.