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 exhausted. 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. Meanwhile, ungulates and other mammals may need to pant to cool down enough, which also means that they must slow down if not remain still.
Persistence hunting is believed to have been one of the earliest hunting strategies used by humans. It is still used effectively by the San people in the Kalahari Desert, and by the Rarámuri people of Northwestern Mexico.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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Lacking guns and even bows, they could hunt only by digging traps or pursuing prey across the mountains until the animals collapsed from exhaustion.
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- "The Barefoot Professor". Nature Publishing Group. Daniel Lieberman talks about persistence hunting and barefoot running
- "Russian Family Cut Off for 40 Years from Human Contact". Smithsonian. Mentions that the family "lacking guns and even bows, they could hunt only by digging traps or pursuing prey across the mountains until the animals collapsed from exhaustion."