Persistence hunting – humans running antelope to death

Kalahari bushman after a successful persistence hunt of a male kuduA while ago I watched a David Attenborough documentary that showed a bushman man running a Kudu to death. It was pretty amazing stuff – by persistently chasing the kudu through the heat of the day he was able to exhaust it to the point of collapse.

(Watch that part of the documentary on YouTube – 7 minutes)

I was very impressed (and sorry for the Kudu) but assumed that this was highly unusual.

It turns out that in ancient history persistence hunting (as it is known) was actually very common. In fact some anthropologists believe humans hunted in this way before they had tools such as spears and bows.

Our bodies are so well adapted to endurance running (especially in hot conditions where prey easily overheat) that these anthropologists believe persistence hunting was an evolutionary force in humans. It seems we are specifically evolved to be able to run a large antelope into heat exhaustion.

Some examples (many more in the other articles):

  • Running on two legs is slower in a sprint, but more efficient over long distances
  • Humans have toes that are far shorter than all other primates. This has been shown to be a big advantage – but only when running over distance
  • Hairless bodies and our all over sweating allows running in the heat. Antelope aren’t nearly as efficient at getting rid of heat – they must stop to pant

Interesting stuff. Here is another short article on the subject.

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    Funny… I recently saw a Discover Channel special saying that our closest primate relatives who use all four limbs to get around use about 50% more energy than us bipeds. Another reason that humans dominate!

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  • Rachel

    I'm not entirely useless after all!

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  • vidyut

    Incredible, yet fits in with what instinct tells me. I've done a lot of walking, and never really tired from it. Used to seem incredible to people, but it makes sense now. It was strange (still is, though I don't walk as much). Walking fast/running for shorter periods is tougher for me than walking round the clock (with nomadic horsemen).

  • helena

    i saw that documentary too. incredable isnt it!!
    it also said that another of our advantages is that we can carry water with us, alimals have to actually find water, then stop to drink it. They also have to stop to cool down, whereas humans can sweat to keep cool.
    haha. wish i was that fit!

  • alistairpott

    The New York Times has an interesting article touching on this. It's about how humans seem to be evolved for long distance running.

  • alistairpott

    The New York Times has an interesting article touching on this. It's about how humans seem to be evolved for long distance running.

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  • clark

    Fascinating video and idea. Check out the video at 3:46 or so, where it shows slow motion of his feet as he lands. He lands on the balls of his feet, whereas most westerners land on the heel, which people are saying is really bad for your feet.

  • Bachini

    That's pretty freakin' cool!

  • riz

    theres a really good book all about distance running and the Tarahumara indians in mexico. Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. it has a lot of new research on all aspects of running and a pretty cool story too.

  • spyros

    I used to do this for fun as a “cruel kid” 30 years ago in our farm chasing chickens and dogs to the exhaustion. Therefore I definitely buy the theory that our ability for persistence hunting gave us a critical advantage over our competitors.

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  • ben


  • ben

    dudes i read recently about a lady, barbara moore, who walked from sanfransisco to new york in 46 days, 6-8 mph pace and ate a diet which consisted of almost entirely wild edible plants and grasses!!! I prepare for the day that we can walk out our front doors with nothing on our backs but natural harmony and thrive as she did.

  • Sean

    Very interesting article.

  • Maxime Lagacé (SmilingMind)

    In “Born to Run”, they tell the same story. That's the first article I see about it. Interesting

  • Maxime Lagacé (SmilingMind)

    In the book “Born to Run”, they tell the same story. That's the first article I see about it. Interesting indeed !

  • I3adasswrestler

    I saw that documentary a few weeks ago! Great article!

  • Pete

    I'm not nearly so fit as I once was but when I was younger I would often walk with my eyes closed and just flash them open every 5 – 10 seconds in order to gain some rest when I needed sleep. It worked very well and my experiences gained through lots of walking have always led me to believe we were born to walk/run.

  • Apprenticelineman

    Thank god we're not having to run our food to death anymore…ha ha.

  • KevL

    And I read crap like 'cardio goes against the human evolution' or that 'cardio is bad for you'. I've never, ever believed all that nonsense

  • Brian

    Humans rock!

  • BP

    Pretty amazing.

  • Dionim

    Yes, but they tell it slightly different. Way shorter (2 hours, but could be up to 4-5) and way more intense. Plus, not with a single runner.

  • TheCompetitveLife

    Good post! I write about the Human and our natural predator and hunting instincts. This is very cool! You might enjoy a post I wrote about the good of our predator nature. The short link to wordpress.

  • Francesc Rosàs

    The linked video is not available anymore, try this instead: