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John Harmonic

Is it true that most animals are not long distant runners?

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And that is something unique to humans. Is it also true that we use to out run our prey in the wild by tiring them out in long distant chases.

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On 10/2/2018 at 3:19 PM, John Harmonic said:

And that is something unique to humans. Is it also true that we use to out run our prey in the wild by tiring them out in long distant chases.

The persistence hunt is a hypothesis about our past. It's a highly unlikely scenario. It can be done today, by a very few elite hunter-gatherers. But it needs more than just endurance. You need superb tracking skills, and intimate knowledge of your quarry, and locality. And you need to be efficiently bipedal. No Chimpanzee could hope to do it, as they are not evolved for running on two feet. So as an explanation for the evolution of bipedalism, it's a non starter. The early human ancestors, recently bipedal, couldn't hope to run down prey like a modern bushman can. 

On the other hand, persistence in running down a wounded quarry would definitely be something that happened. You wound a large animal with a spear from a hiding place, and then follow the tracks, hopefully to come across it, weakened by loss of blood, and finish it off.

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On 10/2/2018 at 8:19 AM, John Harmonic said:

And that is something unique to humans. Is it also true that we use to out run our prey in the wild by tiring them out in long distant chases.

There are a number of adaptations that make humans very good long distance runners (well our ancestors and those with actual exercise, of course). As noted John, it is not unique, though. Nonetheless, to my knowledge, one of the most cited study is by Liebermann and Bramble who proposed that although humans are bad sprinters, they may excel in endurance running (though the idea was around since the 80s). Theirs was a comprehensive look at various parameters and adaptations related to endurance running in comparison with other animals.

At that point, as the authors acknowledged, there is not a ton of data on endurance running ability of other animals. However, among those they looked at, humans performed pretty well and certainly outperformed other primates. The expected performance of fit humans was comparable to many many specialized species. That being said, humans do not outperform them in every category and is some (e.g. energy expenditure) humans do quite poorly. 

Regarding hunting, that part is unclear. It is more commonly speculated that similar to wild dogs and horses endurance running is more relevant for traveling rather than hunting. It has been speculated that it could be part of tiring animals, but the counterargument is that it is very energetically costly, and hence may not be very likely. Another hypothesis is that it is used for covering large areas in order to scavenge for food, which is a somewhat more attractive hypothesis. However, at least in modern hunter-gatherers scavenging is typically only done opportunistically. 

But to summarize for OP: A) humans are good at endurance running, but are not unique; B) it is unclear whether it is indeed an adaptation for hunting or for other purposes.

Edited by CharonY

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The reason that other animals have not evolved a persistence hunt strategy is probably the level of intelligence needed to carry it off. Bushmen of the Kalahari can read signs that most of us would think of as invisible. And they can tell what animal made it, how fast it was moving and whether it was stressed etc. It would take human levels of intelligence, and many years of experience to fine tune those abilities. 

I was also struck, in the example that I saw on tv, by the fact that the runner was wearing modern trainers. Probably a great help if you're going to be running for many hours across rocky and thorny ground. 

One thing we humans have that aids the process is the ability to cool the skin by sweating. Having no fur helps a lot, as the sweat can evaporate directly off the skin, and make a real difference to body temperature. The prey animals on the other hand are likely to overheat, if they are forced to run for a longer length of time than they evolved to cope with.  Human marathon runners get regular water bottles, and they can drink and pour the water over themselves without stopping. It makes a big difference, but it's something that's not available to other animals.

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1 hour ago, mistermack said:

The reason that other animals have not evolved a persistence hunt strategy is probably the level of intelligence needed to carry it off. Bushmen of the Kalahari can read signs that most of us would think of as invisible. And they can tell what animal made it, how fast it was moving and whether it was stressed etc. It would take human levels of intelligence, and many years of experience to fine tune those abilities. 

Canines, specifically African Wild dogs are known for persistence hunting.

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