Persistence Hunting

persistence hunting

Persistence hunting is a hunting technique in which hunters use a combination of running and tracking to pursue prey to the point of exhaustion. While humans can sweat to reduce body heat their quadruped prey would need to slow from a gallop to pant. Today, it is very rare and seen only in a few groups such as Kalahari bushmen and the Tarahumara or Raramuri people of Northern Mexico. Persistence hunting requires endurance running – running many miles for extended periods of time. Among primates, endurance running is only seen in humans, and persistence hunting is thought to have been one of the earliest forms of human hunting, having evolved 2 million years ago.

The persistence hunt may well have been the first form of hunting practiced by hominids. It is likely that this method of hunting evolved before humans invented projectile weapons, such as darts, spears, or slings. Since they could not kill their prey from a distance and were not fast enough to catch the animal, one reliable way to kill it would have been to run it down over a long distance.

In this regard one has to bear in mind that, as hominids adapted to bipedalism they would have lost some speed, becoming less able to catch prey with short, fast charges. They would, however, have gained endurance and become better adapted to persistence hunting. Although many mammals sweat, only humans have evolved to use sweating for effective thermoregulation. This coupled with relative hairlessness would have given human hunters an additional advantage by keeping their bodies cool in the midday heat.

During the persistence hunt an antelope, such as a kudu, is not shot or speared from a distance, but simply run down in the midday heat. Depending on the specific conditions, hunters of the central Kalahari will chase a kudu for about two to five hours over 25 to 35 km (16 to 22 mi) in temperatures of about 40 to 42 °C (104 to 108 °F). The hunter chases the kudu, which then runs away out of sight. By tracking it down at a fast running pace the hunter catches up with it before it has had enough time to rest in the shade. The animal is repeatedly chased and tracked down until it is too exhausted to continue running. The hunter then kills it at close range with a spear.

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