Persistence hunting

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Persistence hunting is usually understood to mean pursuit by people until the prey succumbs to exhaustion or heat stroke.[1] Some researchers have insisted that the point of persistence hunting is not to induce exhaustion but only to induce heat stroke.[2] However, a decade later, they understood persistence hunting to include pursuit until heat stroke, pursuit until exhaustion or injury, and driving prey to ambushes, natural traps like cliffs and rivers and ravines, or man-made ditches and stakes.[3]

Humans learned the characteristic flight response of different prey animals and used that knowledge to exploit any physiological or situational mismatch.

Research and discussion about persistence hunting has often been in the context of providing support for the Endurance running hypothesis.

Contemporary examples[edit]

Cheetahs as prey[edit]

Cheetahs near Wajir town, in north-east Kenya, were preying on Mr Hassan's goat herd each morning. He waited a few hours until the hottest part of the day, when Cheetahs typically rest in the shade. Mr Hassan and 3 youths chased about 4 miles until they captured the 2 cheetahs.[4]

Cheetahs at hunt have exceptional speed, acceleration and deceleration — for a few seconds. A typical chase only lasts a minute and exhausts the cheetah so much that it is forced to rest. On a typical day a cheetah would make one chase covering 200 to 500 m.

Kudu as prey[edit]

Several Kudu hunts were performed, in the central Kalahari in Botswana, for the documentary television program The Life of Mammals.[5] [6] The hunters searched for fresh tracks from a four-wheel-drive vehicle until they saw Kudu and then hunted on foot. The objective was to illustrate how they would perform persistence hunting, not to demonstrate that they could — so the hunters refilled their water bottles from the vehicle during the hunt. The hunters averaged 6.5 km/hr for 4 to 5 hours, in temperatures of 39-42°C.[7]

In humans[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 hunters 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). In many cases, bulls are more often hunted in this manner. The weight of bulls' horns causes them to tire out more easily, while cows are only hunted down if they are injured or pregnant, making them more vulnerable to tiring out. 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.

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

In the absence of hunting tools, people have occasionally reverted to persistence hunting, as with the Lykov family in Siberia.[8]

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.[7] 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%[9]), 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. ^ 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. S2CID 15432016.
  2. ^ Lieberman, Daniel; Bramble, Dennis; Raichlen, David; Shea, John (June 2007). "The evolution of endurance running and the tyranny of ethnography: A reply to Pickering and Bunn (2007)". Journal of Human Evolution. 53 (4): 439–442. doi:10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.07.002.
  3. ^ Lieberman, Daniel; Mahaffey, Mickey; Cubesare Quimare, Silvino; Holowka, Nicholas; Wallace, Ian; Baggish, Aaron (June 2020). "Running in Tarahumara (Rarámuri) Culture". Current Anthropology. 61 (3). doi:10.1086/708810.
  4. ^ "Kenyans chase down and catch goat-killing cheetahs". BBC News. 15 November 2013.
  5. ^ Attenborough, David (host) (2003). "Food for thought, Persistence hunting". The Life of Mammals. Episode 10. BBC. David Attenborough examines how San bushmen use their endurance and skill to chase a kudu to exhaustion before killing it for food."The Life of Mammals" (PDF) (Press release). BBC. 2002.
  6. ^ "The Intense 8 Hour Hunt". The Life of Mammals. Episode 10. BBC Earth. 2003.
  7. ^ a b Liebenberg, Louis (December 2006). "Persistence Hunting by Modern Hunter-Gatherers". Current Anthropology. 47 (6): 1017–1026. doi:10.1086/508695. JSTOR 10.1086/508695. S2CID 224793846.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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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