Persistence hunting

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Persistence hunting (sometimes called endurance hunting) is a hunting technique in which hunters, who may be slower than their prey over short distances, use a combination of running, walking, and tracking to pursue prey until it is fatigued or overheated. A persistence hunter must be able to run a long distance over an extended period of time. The strategy is used by a variety of canids such as African wild dogs, and by human hunter-gatherers.

Humans are the only surviving primate species that practises persistence hunting. In addition to a capacity for endurance running, human hunters have comparatively little hair, which makes sweating an effective means of cooling the body.[1] Meanwhile, ungulates and other mammals may need to pant to cool down enough,[1] which also means that they must slow down if not remain still.[2]

Persistence hunting is believed to have been one of the earliest hunting strategies used by humans.[2][3] It is still used effectively by the San people in the Kalahari Desert, and by the Rarámuri people of Northwestern Mexico.

In canids[edit]

African wild dogs run down their prey over long distances at moderate speed.

Persistence hunting is found in canids such as African wild dogs and domestic hounds. The African wild dog is an extreme persistence predator, tiring out individual prey by following them for many miles at relatively low speed, compared for example to the cheetah's brief high-speed pursuit.[4]

In humans[edit]

Timelapse of endurance hunting.[5]

Early hominins[edit]

Persistence hunting was likely one of a number of tactics used by early hominins,[2][6] and could have been practised with[7] or without[8] projectile weapons such as darts, spears, or slings.

As hominins 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.[2][3][9] Although many mammals sweat, few have evolved to use sweating for effective thermoregulation, humans and horses being notable exceptions. This coupled with relative hairlessness would have given human hunters an additional advantage by keeping their bodies cool in the midday heat. Additionally, since most predatory animals, even fast ones like cheetahs are incapable of chasing down prey over long distance unlike the aforementioned humans, this method of hunting could sometimes be reversed for hunting predators: rather than fighting and killing it immediately, early humans may have hunted predatory animals by actually letting them chase them in a way that the predator will eventually weaken, such as immediately running away in a different direction than before multiple times both to confuse said predator as well as forcing them to pursue them even further until they become too exhausted and weak to continue chasing the hunters trying to go after it in the first place, allowing the hunters to finally confront and kill that predator. It is highly speculated that the first animals to be made extinct by human activity were most likely wiped out by a combination of climate change that occurred especially near the end of the last Ice Age combined with this type of hunting, especially after dogs were domesticated for the first time, since wolves were also the only other animals that hunted their prey this way during this time, making more animal species that were unable to adapt to the former (such as wooly mammoths) to fall victim to the latter.

Modern hunter-gatherers[edit]

Hunter-gatherers, including the San today, use persistence hunting to catch prey faster than themselves.

The persistence hunt is still practiced by hunter-gatherers in the central Kalahari Desert in Southern Africa. The procedure is to run down an antelope, such as a kudu, in the midday heat, for up to five hours and a distance of up to 35 km (22 mi) in temperatures of as much as 42 °C (108 °F). The hunter chases the kudu, which runs away out of sight. By tracking it down at a fast running pace the hunter catches up with it before it has had time to rest and cool down in the shade. The animal is repeatedly chased and tracked down until it is too exhausted to run. The hunter then kills it with a spear.[10]

The Tarahumara of northwestern Mexico in the Copper Canyon area may also have practiced persistence hunting.[11]

Persistence hunting has even been used against the fastest land animal, the cheetah. In November 2013, four Somali-Kenyan herdsmen from northeast Kenya successfully used persistence hunting in the heat of the day to capture cheetahs who had been killing their goats.[12]

In the absence of hunting tools, people have occasionally reverted to persistence hunting, as with the Lykov family in Siberia.[13]

Seasonal differences[edit]

In particular, the Xo and Gwi tribes maximize the efficiency of persistence hunting by targeting specific species during different seasons. In the rainy season, prime targets include steenbok, duiker, and gemsbok, as wet sand opens their hooves and stiffens their joints. Hunting in the early rainy season is particularly advantageous because dry leaves form "rocks" in the animals' stomachs, resulting in diarrhea. Stiff joints and suboptimal digestion make the prey weaker and more available targets. In contrast, in the dry season, hunters run down kudu, eland, and red hartebeest because these species tire more easily in the loose sand. Hunters say that the best time to practice persistence hunting is near the end of the dry season when animals are poorly nourished and therefore more easily run to exhaustion.[14] By targeting the most vulnerable prey during each season, the hunters maximize the advantages of endurance running.


  1. Persistence hunting must be performed during the day when it is hot, so that the animal will overheat.
  2. The hunters must have been able to track the animal, as they would have lost sight of it during the chase.
  3. Such a long hunt requires high amounts of dietary sources of water, salt, and glycogen.
  4. Although the success rate of recorded persistence hunts is very high (approximately 50%[15]), unsuccessful hunts are very costly. Therefore, there would have had to be a social system in which individuals share food, so unsuccessful hunters could borrow food from others when necessary.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Schmidt-Nielsen, Knut (April 1997). "Temperature Regulation". Animal Physiology: Adaptation and Environment (5th ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 275. ISBN 978-0-521-57098-5. OCLC 35744403. Retrieved 16 March 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d Carrier, David R. (August–October 1984). "The Energetic Paradox of Human Running and Hominid Evolution". Current Anthropology. 25 (4): 483–95. doi:10.1086/203165. JSTOR 2742907.
  3. ^ a b Liebenberg, Louis (2008). "The relevance of persistence hunting to human evolution". Journal of Human Evolution. 55 (6): 1156–9. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2008.07.004. PMID 18760825.
  4. ^ Hubel, Tatjana Y.; Myatt, Julia P.; Jordan, Neil R.; Dewhirst, Oliver P.; McNutt, J. Weldon; Wilson, Alan M. (29 March 2016). "Energy cost and return for hunting in African wild dogs and cheetahs" (PDF). Nature Communications. 7: 11034. Bibcode:2016NatCo...711034H. doi:10.1038/ncomms11034. PMC 4820543. PMID 27023457.
  5. ^ Gifts of wounds and personality disorders traits | Fiann Paul | TEDxBend, retrieved 21 October 2019
  6. ^ Grant S McCall, Before Modern Humans: New Perspectives (2014, ISBN 1611322227), page 238
  7. ^ Geoffrey Franklin Miller, Evolution of the Human Brain (1993)
  8. ^ Edward S. Sears, Running Through the Ages, 2d ed (2015, ISBN 1476620865), page 14
  9. ^[full citation needed][permanent dead link]
  10. ^ "Food For Thought" (PDF). The Life of Mammals. BBCi.
  11. ^ McDougall, Christopher, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, New York, 2009.[page needed]
  12. ^ "Kenyans chase down and catch goat-killing cheetahs". BBC News. 15 November 2013.
  13. ^ Mike Dash (28 January 2013). "For 40 Years, This Russian Family Was Cut Off From All Human Contact, Unaware of World War II". Smithsonian. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 16 March 2014. Lacking guns and even bows, they could hunt only by digging traps or pursuing prey across the mountains until the animals collapsed from exhaustion.
  14. ^ Liebenberg, Louis (December 2006). "Persistence Hunting by Modern Hunter-Gatherers". Current Anthropology. 47 (6): 1017–1026. doi:10.1086/508695. JSTOR 10.1086/508695.
  15. ^ Lieberman, Daniel; Bramble, Dennis; Raichlen, David; Shea, John (October 2006). "Brains, Brawn, and the Evolution of Human Endurance Running Capabilities". Contributions from the Third Stony Brook Human Evolution Symposium and Workshop: 77–92.


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