Catching animals for food was a crucial component of hunter-gatherer societies before the domestication of livestock and the dawn of agriculture. But for many people around the world, hunting remains a way of life. The Penan of Sumatra might use a blowpipe, and the auk-catchers of the Arctic might use a net, but it’s all about survival in the end.

Photo from Human Planet
Kazakh hunters train Golden Eagles to hunt foxes and wolves on the Altai mountain plateau in Western Mongolia.


Hunting Hunting

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About Hunting

Well before humans learned how to domesticate animals or grow crops, they were running around chasing animals or catching them in traps, aiming to have them for supper. And for many people around the world, not a lot has changed.

Hunting has it fans and its foes but one thing that many people forget is that to do it well requires an in-depth knowledge of animal behavior. Linking marks on the ground with the activities of an animal, for example, requires a level of understanding of which only humans are capable.

The San bushmen of the Kalahari are some of the best hunters in the world, not only able to track prey like kudu but often also able to chase them down, over many miles, running only on bare feet. By the time the hunter throws his spear, it is already a fait accompli. The kudu is already on the brink of death, too exhausted to get away.

The Akie of Tanzania are also kings of catching kudu but with so many other predators in the bush, they are all too aware that the hunter can easily become the hunted. As a result, they always move their kill to an open area before cutting it up. After that, not an ounce of the kudu is wasted. The meat goes to feed the whole community while the hide is kept intact, dried, and used as a honey pouch.

Feeding the community with their prey is common to many tribes even if the weapons used may differ. The Penan of Sumatra and the Matis of Brazil both live in tropical rainforests and both use blowpipes to catch food for their community. The advantage of blowpipes over guns is that they are silent and therefore allow hunters to pick off a group of animals one by one without scaring off the others.

Of course not all animals need fancy weapons to catch them. In the jungle of Venezuela, children go hunting armed with nothing but a small stick. But then they are trying to bag themselves a rather unusual meal: a Goliath bird-eater spider. The eight-legged giant is the heaviest spider in the world and extremely aggressive – something which doesn’t help its cause when the children push their stick in its burrow. Rather than retreating, the angry arachnid attacks the stick and refuses to let go, thus sealing its own fate when the children pull the stick back out of the burrow.

Creepy animals are also flavour of the month in the forested highlands of Papua New Guinea. Here the Yangoru Boiken tribe cut huge swathes through the forest and then hang nets across them to catch the giant fruit bats that fly through the clearings. Not only are the bats one of the few sources of meat in these mountains, but just one of them – with some rice - can feed up to twelve people, proving that necessity is indeed the mother of invention.