A Man Can Chase Down Any Animal . . . Eventually (??)

When I was really young, my father said, “There are many animals that can outrun a man for a short distance. But man’s endurance is such that a skilled tracker will eventually catch any animal.”

It’s so long ago that I don’t even know what he was trying to say – was he lauding man’s superior skill and smarts, and saying that he would (if he were a skilled hunter) outsmart the animal? Or, as I took it at the time, was he making some physiological propositiion, viz., that over an infinitely long savanna, and if the tracker does not make any significant errors or frolics and detours, and even assuming the animal did not stupidly double back in his direction, a man’s aggregate stamina and endurance were such that he would eventually overtake the [cheetah/gazelle/chipmunk], sprint they never so fast for short bursts?

Anyhow, have any of you ever heard a proposition like this, and is there any version of it that can be proved (or falsified)?

You’re talking about a completely unequipped human, right? No vehicles or anything?

I doubt that a man would eventually catch an animal actively trying to escape. Many animals are capable of covering far more ground in a day than a human. As long as the animal didn’t loop back, as you say, the distance between human and wolf (or horse, or pronghorn, or whatever) would just keep increasing–even considering the prey’s need to stop and eat.

And I really doubt that the human could catch a mountain goat, not to mention a falcon, albatross, great white shark, or mosquito. :smiley:

There are very few animals that will outdistance a human male in normal condition. Any man in reasonable shape will run at 8 km for several hours on end. In contrast animals like cattle have evolved largely to escape from predators like cats and dogs, where the hunt is over one way or the other within minutes. As such they have very limited endurance ability and can’t effectively cool themselves while running since they can’t sweat. Because of that a human will run down almost any animal provided they can either track it or keep it in sight. Animals escape humans that run after them by running for cover as fats as possible and hiding.

Horses are able to sweat and have reasonable stamina and will thus give most humans a run for thier money at the very least. Although horses can’t run for hours on end the way humans can they can run much faster for 15 minutes or so, and then rest while the human catches up and sprint off again. Even so people can run down horses and American Indians captured horses using exactly that method, running them to exhaustion and then leaping on their necks and choking them down. Not something you’d do for fun, but clearly possible.

Having said that, humans certainly aren’t capable of running down every animal. Dogs and wolves will beat us hands down under moderate temperatures. Anything below about 30oC a dog will run for hours just like a human, but they are faster than we are, so you couldn’t run down a wolf. At higher temperatures the inability of dogs to sweat comes into play, and they can only run for half an hour or so without overheating so in hot conditions it’s certainly possible to run down a dog. The larger kangaroos animals that humans con never run down under any circumstances. They can also travel for hours on end but are far more efficient and faster than any human at any temperature.

But generally what your father said was true, with very few exceptions a skilled tracker (or on treeless plains) will run down almost any animal.

Very few animals are capable of covering more ground in a day than a human. Dogs, horses and kangaroos are amongst the very, very few. Can you name any other species that can cover more ground in a day than a human?

Assuming you mean 8 km/hr (5 mph), I’ll just add that the “reasonable shape” part is critical here. To put that in perspective, running at that pace would produce a 5:12 marathon time. For reference, Bush ran a marathon in 3:44 in 1993 (when he was 47), but he trained for it and he’s a pretty serious runner. I doubt that your average recreational runner (someone who runs 3-5 miles, 3 or 4 times per week) could come anywhere near that time, but he or she could probably pull off an ~5 hr marathon if he had to. Add in a few long distance runs to that person’s training program, and a 5 hour marathon would be no problem at all. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors probably “trained” better than that just going about their everyday business.

And for further reference, most people walk naturally at about 3 - 3.5 mph.

A pronghorn can easily outdistance a man. They can approach speeds of 50-55mph and keep it up for great distances. In terms of pure physical ability without any use of brains, animals that can run faster than humans, even if they can’t keep it up, can run farther, rest, run farther, rest, and keep ahead.

Just remember as humans run they use energy. Humans would have to stop and look for food in their pursuit of the animal. Grazing animals can eat grass and bushes on their way. So the more the human ran the more food he’d have to eat to keep up the pace he started at.

8km/hr is just under 5mph. A horse can clock up to 40mph. That is 8 times as fast.
So if the horse runs 40mph for 10 minutes he is already 6.6miles away where the human is 8/10 of ONE mile away. So the horse just mearly rests. Then takes off again.

I really doubt Native Americans were using pure physical ablity to catch horses. I would bet anything they used their minds. Setting some sort of trap or catching them into areas where there was no retreat.

It’s called Cursorial Hunting, and it is/was used by hunters in Africa to track down game and Native Americans to hunt down horses. It seems especially effective in hot dry climates where disapating heat is an issue. Humans seem very good at that.

Here’s Wiki on it.

It seems to me that most animals running away from a person would do so very inefficiently, i.e., sprint away for a bit, then stand and watch, then sprint again, etc. A human wouldn’t run anything down by sprinting in 100 yard bursts either. It makes me curious as to what other species could outdistance humans if they had the brains to pace themselves. I strongly suspect horses would be one of them.

Even with the increase in brains, I wouldn’t think there would be many. We physically evolved to do this sort of thing, they for the most part didn’t. Fit humans (not the galoots most of us are these days) engaging in this activity would be pretty relentless.

Let’s set the “ground” rules before I answer that. I presume we’re speaking specifically of land mammals, right? No albatrosses or salmon, or your challenge is just too easy.

Secondly, if the human is significantly slower than the animal being pursued, then said human won’t be moving at a consistent run, because the animal will soon be out of sight and he’ll have to track it. This also means that the human will (for the most part) only be able to move during daylight hours, while the animal being pursued can run all night long (stopping for naps as required).

Finally, remember the condition that the animal is actually trying to escape and cover as much ground as possible.

Okay, given those, let’s try a list. As you pointed out, dogs (wolves, etc.) can easily outpace a human. They tracked one coming south out of Canada with a GPS collar that covered an average of 20 miles per day for a full month. That’s measured point-to-point, so the wolf actually traveled much farther than that when hunting and going around difficult terrain. Other good candidates would be horses and their kin, pronghorns, and a variety of gazelles.

Now let’s start considering terrain. Take a mountain goat in the high Rockies. Humans are so slow crossing snowy/rocky mountain cliffs at altitudes of 12,000+ feet that the goat would hardly need to work at escaping.

Head out into a hot desert. Would a human be able to cover as much ground as a camel? Would a human even be able to survive long enough alone while trying to track said camel?

Settle into a thickly overgrown swamp. See how much ground you can cover in a day trying to track a feral pig or (god forbid) a semi-aquatic animal like a muskrat. By the time you’ve forced your way through a few hundred yards, it’ll be miles away.

Ever try to chase a rabbit through brambles?

Unfortunately, I don’t have statistics handy on how much ground various species can cover in a day, so I can’t go much farther tonight. That’s just what comes up off the top of my head.

Define “A great distance”, and can you provide a reference that the animals can sustain such speeds for an hour or more at a time? That seems incredible.


Pardon my mirth, but you have to have a little understanding of animal physiology to understand why that suggestion is humorous. Quite simply there is no way that an animal like a horse or sheep is going to be able to get enough nutrients out of grass to sustain the sort of energy expended in running distances. Yes, humans will lose weight too of course, but in both cases the entire chase will be done almost entirely on fat reserves. Any contribution by food along eaten the way will be negligible.

It doesn’t work that way. You can’t just keep extrapolating as though there is no inherent limit. 40mph is a full gallop even for a racing thoroughbred. It’s the equivalent of a human sprint.

Human sprinters routinely manage to sustain speeds of 30km/hr. So by your logic they should win marathon races by a wide margin. If the sprinter runs 30km/hr for 1 minute he is already 500m away where the marathon runner is 1.5metres away. So the sprinter merely rests. Then takes off again.

Of course it doesn’t work like that in the real world. A horse or human sprinter simply can not sustain an infinite number of sprints. Over a 12 hour period a good horse in peak condition might manage three or four 40mph gallops sustained over 10 minutes if the weather is cool. Or to put it another way it can manage to do that sort of time every 3 hours of so. Yet the human will be catching up every ¾ of an hour.

What you are expecting with you scenario is that a horse manage to run the Kentucky Derby every 45 minute from sunup to sundown. Of course such a scenario is simply not possible. However humans can and do manage to sustain 10km/hr from sunup to sundown.

We’re talking about land animals of course, because we are discussing the amount of ground they can cover. But you are free to include cursorial birds or reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates and so forth as you wish.

Well if you have some evidence regarding how much tracking an animal slows a person down then you can enter it. Until then I’m assuming based on what I know of that tracking will only reduce speed by about 10% at most.

Well if that’s your sole point, that humans can’t outrun an animal in terrain where humans can’t run at all then of course you are right. Hard to see what it contribute sin terms of addressing the OP.

Hell yes.

Camel’s and humans are both animals of arid and semi-arid tropical environments and are excellently adapted to the heat. The difference is that camels can’t sweat to coole themselves to any great degree. If the try to run at all in the heat they will collapse within an hour. Humans on the other hand routinely run for over an hour in temperatures exceeding 40oC. I have done it myself on numerous occasions.

Once again it seems like your sole point is that we can’t run through extremely dense undergrowth as fast as a pig, which is true, but then we can’t run through a3’ tall tunnel as fast as a rat and we can’t run along branches as fast as a squirrel. It’s hard to see what this actually adds in term so f addressing the OP.

It seem like trivial and fatuous observation and worse yet it goes no way at all towards addressing your claim that these animals can actually cover more ground in a day than a human. A rat or pig might be able to sprint faster than a human in those weird situations but I can see no reason to believe they can cover more ground. Pigs are notorious as being solely sprinters with little or no capacity for sustained speed in overgrown swamp or elsewhere.

It’s not really anything at all. Some examples of where humans are basically prevented form running at all and some examples that are incorrect, like the idea of camels running for longer in the heat than humans. It seems like only dogs and kangaroos are actually capable of covering more ground than humans except in conditions like branches, thickets, tunnels and other conditions where humans are largely prevented from running at all.

Except that’s not the way most animals run away. You have to take normal behavior into account. Most animals will run just far enough to feel that they are out of danger. They will not try to “cover as much ground as possible.” They will stop, then take off again when the pursuer gets too close. Under these conditions, in open terrain, then animal will always be in sight in daylight (or moonlight after dark). If they started early enough in the day, a human would likely be able to exhaust most animals before nightfall.

Okay, given those, let’s try a list. As you pointed out, dogs (wolves, etc.) can easily outpace a human. They tracked one coming south out of Canada with a GPS collar that covered an average of 20 miles per day for a full month. That’s measured point-to-point, so the wolf actually traveled much farther than that when hunting and going around difficult terrain. Other good candidates would be horses and their kin, pronghorns, and a variety of gazelles.

Dogs and wolves OK under certain conditions, as Blake says; they are also cursorial hunters. Horses are known to have successfully been hunted by humans on foot. Probably not pronghorns or gazelles over the long haul.

True enough, but the OP specified the conditions as an endless savanna.

You may have one there. Although they don’t sweat, camels are highly tolerant of heat stress.

Again, the OP specified an “endless savanna.” Once you allow the animal to take to cover all bets are off.

Pronghorns are reknowned for ridiculous speeds over extended periods of time, but I’ve never seen any actual numbers put on it. I would assume that they can’t maintain a sprint (~100kph) for very long, but I believe they will travel at ~70kph for “extended” periods of time. I’m looking around for cites that will put an actual figure on that, because I’m really not sure what “extended” means in this case.

Fixed coding in the middle bit:

Dogs and wolves OK under certain conditions, as **Blake **says; they are also cursorial hunters. Horses are known to have successfully been hunted by humans on foot. Probably not pronghorns or gazelles over the long haul.

True enough, but the OP specified the conditions as an endless savanna.

Here’s some proof that man can outrun even a motivated horse overland. Granted, the horse was carrying a rider, but the man who won the race did so handily, and the race was “only” 35 kilometers. I don’t know exactly how to extrapolate this out; the human was in racing shape but then so was the horse.

But if you just want to say “I told you so” to your dad, bring up Canada geese. Yeah, yeah, he probably wasn’t referring to birds, but he did say “animals”, and I’d love to see the human who can run down a goose!

Aside: Are Canada geese the champions at long-distance flying, or can an albatross or some other bird best them? I know that swallows are faster, but we all know that swallows are non-migratory :D, so I doubt they could keep up that speed across continents. And of course, most birds of prey are much faster in a dive, but I’m certain they can’t keep that up.

African swallows are non-miratory.

Jurph, a rider is a very significant burden for a horse, so I’m not really sure that proves much.
Extensive searching on pronghorns hasn’t turned up anything authoritative. Most descriptions suggest top speeds of 90-100kph, sustainable for about 10 minutes, and 50-70kph sustainable for 30-60 minutes. Happily, we don’t need any silly statistics to determine whether a person can chase down an antelope. We can just ask the guy who tried it and wrote a book about it!

So it sounds like it can be done, but requires multiple people and I’m guessing ends up relying on the pronghorns looping back giving the hunters the chance to tag-team it. I have no idea what the dancing is supposed to be about.

Dang. I gotta check in here more often. If you can track down the NPR segment that this guy recorded in the field, while he was running down the antelope–man, one of my alltime favorite radio experiences.

How about the arctic tern?

It migrates from the North Polar region to the South Polar region, over 35,000 km every year, and according to one article I found, spends most of its time in the air.