How much of the world's population still hunts for food every day?

Gazing at a huge African drum just now in the living room, I got to thinking. The drum is animal skin, drawn tautly across a wooden framework. My wife- an elementary school music teacher- uses these drums at work. I believe it is antelope skin from Sub-Saharan Africa. I’m wondering what happened to the rest of the beast.

How much of the world’s population still hunts for its food on a regular basis? By this I mean, for primary survival opposed to supplimentary or casual foodstuffs. Many tribal groups may still hunt a few times a year for ceremonial or ritualistic reasons. Bison or whale hunts for Native Americans or Inuit, etc. I’m not talking about these people. I mean, who still goes out and hunts game so that they can survive?

Are there any tribes or groups of people on our planet who still maintain their own survival? Or has our planet become so developed that the responsibility for obtaining foodstuffs has been taken from the hands and weapons and traps and… skillsets of those who have hunted for millenia?


There would be virtually no group today that survives primarily on hunting. Even the most remote and primitive surviving groups get most of their food supply from agriculture. Game is a supplement to the food supply, not the main subsistence. However, there may be a few groups that survive mainly on fishing, which some people may do every day.

In my experience in Panama, Indians in remote areas may go hunting a few times a month, if that. Game is depleted near villages, so it requires a bit of an expedition to get anything worthwhile. They may fish more often (since they usually live on rivers), maybe 3-4 times a week. But most of the diet is corn, plantains, and cassava that they raise themselves. And they are all in regular contact with outside communities, even if outsiders don’t visit very often.

There are still a few bands in the Amazon that are not in regular contact with outsiders, although most have indirect contact via other members of the tribal group who have assimilated. But these bands are agriculturalists as well.

Don’t the Khoisan people, at least the more isolated of them, still live as hunter-gatherers?

Very few if any still do, at least full-time. This report on the status of the San (the “Bushmen,” who were originally hunter-gatherers, in distinction to the Khoi-khoi, or “Hottentots,” who were herders; collectively they are called Khoi-san) says:

AFAIK, most San these days have been relocated to poverty-striken settlements. Very few if any still pursue a traditional life-style.

Can I just say that “San” is a rather offensive word to apply to various hunter-gather people’s of the Kalahari, otherwise known as Bushmen? San is a derogatory label applied on them by the neighboring Khoikhoi peoples, and carries similar baggage as the word “nigger” in the US.

Of course, labeling for various groups can get tricky - this article explains a lot.

Can I get a cite on that please? The San themselves don’t seem to be terribly offended by it, as witnessed by this site, which is apparently a lobbying group for San rights.

(This now makes me wonder where they get all the antelope hides for the drums. It’s the second most common drum head, after goat. I’m sure they herd the goats, but have they domesticated antelopes? What a blow to “Home on the Range!”)

There’s still a lot of hunting for “'bush meat,” but as often as not it’s done by people from towns and villages who do it commercially, not for subsistence.

I was surprised by this statement, as I thought immediatly about Amazonian groups living in French Guyana and was under the belief that sme of them relied largely on hunting/gathering.

But searching a little for serious references on the internet, it turned out that I was wrong.

That’s what you get for relying on TV documentaries I suppose. It’s probably much more appealing to show them hunting than tendng their crops.

In a course on tape about anthropology that I’m listening to right now, the teacher said that there are about 250,000 people in the world subsisting as hunter-gathers.

Do you know if that figure includes fishing cultures?

The Eskimo- in remote areas- do not rely on agriculture. They hunt and fish. Not many crops grow in the tundra. How many of them still rely 100% on their own work rather than “store bought” food is another question entirely.

It is entirely possible then, that the skins used to make these drums are purchased from commercial processors of antelope meat who make money off of every ounce of the animal.

Colibri writes:

> Do you know if that figure includes fishing cultures?

No, all I know is that number which the teacher gave. Is it even possible to survive entirely on fishing, as opposed to fishing plus hunting like Eskimos? I would presume that the hunter-gatherer cultures live in remote parts of Africa, New Guinea, and the Amazonian rain forest, plus northern Alaska and Canada.

I don’t actually know of any hunter gatherers in New Guinea. To the best of my knoweldge there have been no HGs on the island for several thousand years. Most villages utilise some hunting to supplement their food supply as Colibri noted above, but agriculture has been the primary source of food for millenia. If there are any true HGs left in NG they are a very small and unusual group.

The same is true of the Amazon. I don’t know if there were were any HGs living there even at the time of European contact. It’s popular to portray Amazonian Indians as people n some sort of harmony with the forest but the vast majority of not all of them practiced slash and burn agriculture and obtained most of their food that way.

Rainforest is a very difficult place to obtain food and it suports very few HGs. In fact in those areas of the world without agriculture HGs apparently never actually lived in true rainforest. Those forest patches that couldn’t be walked acrosss in a few days were essentially abandoned as wasteland. People restricted their hunting to river margins, marshes, woodlands, grasslands and so forth, with forays into the forest. Any attempt to actually live in just rainforest would probably result in starvation. Rainforests generally lack enough accessible plant foods plant foods and make hunting so difficult that supporting sutainable human populations year round without agriculture becomes impossible.

While I’m sure that it’s as possible to survive on fishing as it is on hunting, and probably moreso, after thinking about it I realized I couldn’t come up with any examples of fishing cultures that didn’t also use agriculture and/or trade for other foods with neighbors.

African pygmies are often used as an example of a hunter-gatherer culture, but most if not all of them live in a kind of symbiosis with nearby agriculturalists. They only live in the forest for a time, then come out to trade with or more often work for the agriculturalists.

I found the figure of 250,000 surprisingly high. I would have expected a figure in the 10,000s at most, and probably in the 1,000s. I’m just wondering what groups might be included in that figure, and whether they are really full-time or mostly full-time hunter-gatherers.

Completely fascinating stuff. I have nothing to add to my own thread ( weird, but there you have it ) but please know I am reading all of the posts quite attentively. The idea that there are a scant few thousand worldwide is startling to me. Then again, perhaps I didn’t word the OP correctly. I didn’t really think anyone lived on proteins from hunting alone ( besides Dr. Atkins that is… :smiley: ), but I am surprised to learn that this level of existence does not exist.

The eskimo sometimes eat the stomach contents of the reindeer, and they gather a few berries, and there is a little lichen. But raw meat does contain vitamin C, so they get by. I imagine that the number who still live soley on hunting/fishing is very small.

Here’s more information from the course on tape that I described: The course is Peoples and Cultures of the World, where the lecturer is Edward Fischer of Vanderbilt University, and the course is sold by The Teaching Company. In lecture 13, he says that “about a quarter-million people live in band-level societies, subsisting mainly from gathering wild plants and hunting.” Hunter-gatherers actually are more gatherers, getting 70% of their food from roots, nuts, and berries. The example he uses in talking about this situation is the Dobe Ju/'hoansi of the southern Kalahari Desert, and there are about 50,000 of them.