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In the past we knew how to run for our livelihood

Business Day – 8 NOVEMBER 2016 – by SHAUN SMILLIE 

business-day-article

Louis Liebenberg tracker Karel Benadie (Rolex/Eric Vandeville)

In the midday heat of the central Kalahari, Louis Liebenberg found himself taking part in the final days of a tradition dating back 2-million years. The anthropologist was near a place called Lone Tree, tracking a healthy kudu with a band of San Bushmen, when the decision was made to run the animal down.

Initially, Liebenberg was told to go back to camp as chasing game in 40°C plus heat bought with it the dangers of heat stroke. But the academic convinced them to let him tag along — a decision that nearly cost him his life.

For the next couple of hours, Liebenberg watched as the San tracked the animal at a run, as the hunt developed into a tussle between the fleet-footed kudu and the hunters with the advantage of a far more efficient cooling system.

Every time they caught up with the animal, it would run off. But the kudu’s exhaustion and heat stress began to show in its tracks — it was kicking up more sand and its stride was shortening. It tried to seek shade in
the thickets.

One of the hunters, !Nate, got close enough to the kudu to easily kill it with the thrust of a spear. But he gave up on his quarry when he realised that the academic they had reluctantly invited on the hunt was showing signs of heat stroke. Liebenberg had to be helped back to camp.

The anthropologist had become one of the few outsiders to experience what has since been known as a persistence hunt. What he observed convinced him that humans had probably evolved the feat of endurance running over 2-million years to chase down game.

Understanding that humans are running beings allows scientists to reassess the capability of all humans.

Liebenberg asked the San why, after years of extensive study, no one knew about persistence hunts. They replied that no academic had ever bothered to ask. People only wanted to know about their bows and arrows, they said.

The San, Liebenberg explains, are able to carry out the hunts because of a unique set of adaptations that gave them the edge over the kudu. Besides being able to sweat more than any other species, they are hairless, have long limbs and have a very energy-efficient run.

Man is so efficient in this discipline, that humans have been known to outrun horses over long distances. But the problem, says Prof Dan Lieberman of Harvard University, is that increasingly sedentary lifestyles are masking this talent.

“We are now learning how much we get into trouble by avoiding this kind of activity,” he explains. “Not running [or doing its modern equivalent in the gym] increases the rate at which we age, and causes us to get sick from a wide range of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some cancers, Alzheimer’s and more.”

The new frontier in understanding endurance running is examining the effects it has on the brain. It is already well known that running helps in combating depression.

But human brains might have been given a far more important evolutionary nudge from running and hunting, Liebenberg believes. Cognitive thinking, he suspects, has its origins in persistence hunting.

There are two theories about why humans developed the ability to run. One is that they had to travel quickly over long distances to get to predator kill sites so they could scavenge meat before other carnivores arrived. The other theory is that they developed it to hunt.

“The ability to speculate, with its creative hypothetico-deductive reasoning are the origins of scientific theory,” says Liebenberg.

But scientists believe that there are other psychological adaptations, that emerged back when human ancestors were learning to run. One of these is the holy grail of sports performance — a bubble of super concentration that is usually seen when competitors are facing life-threatening conditions.

It is known as the flow, a trance-like state in which athletes are totally focused. Sport scientist Prof Tim Noakes says the flow is seen among downhill skiers, and surfers who take on monster killer waves.

“It is a case of, if they are not in the flow, they will die.”

Noakes says athletes in other disciplines are tapping into the flow. He believes that Wayde van Niekerk was in the flow when he won gold in the 400m race at the Rio Olympics.

“When he finished that race, he didn’t seem to know where he was, he was so focused,” he says. “It might as well be that the flow developed back when we were hunting.”

Liebenberg’s persistence hunt more than 25 years ago was probably one of the last. The San who took him on the hunt, are now old and the new generation, plagued by alcohol abuse, prefer using dogs and horses to chase down game.

In other parts of the world, this method of hunting is
rarely practised.

Some Tarahumara Native Americans still hunt deer this way and the Hadza in Tanzania are known to take part in occasional persistence hunts.

“I suspect, however, that within a generation persistence hunting will be gone because of habitat change, regulations and the loss of [tracking] skill,” Liebenberg says.

But the biological and psychological mechanics that enabled these ancient hunts still lie within all humans and experts believe they can still be tapped in the search for a healthier life.

In Memory of !Nate Brahman

nate

It was with great sadness that I learnt that !Nate Brahman had passed away on 20 January 2016, the week before I arrived at Lone Tree to visit him. I have known !Nate since 1985 and he played a key role in inspiring our efforts to create employment opportunities for trackers, including the development of the Tracker Certification and the CyberTracker software. In 1990 I ran the persistence hunt with !Nate, who risked his own life to save mine when I suffered from life-threatening heat exhaustion. !Nate featured in a number of TV documentaries, including the famous BBC film on the persistence hunt presented by David Attenborough. For more than 30 years he has been one of my closest friends, longer than any other friend I have known. We would like to express our condolences to !Nate’s wife !Nasi, his children, his family and friends. His passing is a great loss to tracking.

Louis Liebenberg

 

Distance running may be an evolutionary ‘signal’ for desirable male genes

PH-Cambridge

New research shows that males with higher ‘reproductive potential’ are better distance runners. This may have been used by females as a reliable signal of high male genetic quality during our hunter-gatherer past, as good runners are more likely to have other traits of good hunters and providers, such as intelligence and generosity.

Persistence hunting may have been one of the most efficient forms of hunting, and as a consequence may have shaped human evolution” – Danny Longman

Read University of Cambridge News Article here

Can Persistence Hunting Signal Male Quality?

Daniel Longman, Jonathan C. K. Wells, Jay T. Stock

Abstract

Various theories have been posed to explain the fitness payoffs of hunting success among hunter-gatherers. ‘Having’ theories refer to the acquisition of resources, and include the direct provisioning hypothesis. In contrast, ‘getting’ theories concern the signalling of male resourcefulness and other desirable traits, such as athleticism and intelligence, via hunting prowess. We investigated the association between androgenisation and endurance running ability as a potential signalling mechanism, whereby running prowess, vital for persistence hunting, might be used as a reliable signal of male reproductive fitness by females. Digit ratio (2D:4D) was used as a proxy for prenatal androgenisation in 439 males and 103 females, while a half marathon race (21km), representing a distance/duration comparable with that of persistence hunting, was used to assess running ability. Digit ratio was significantly and positively correlated with half-marathon time in males (right hand: r = 0.45, p<0.001; left hand: r= 0.42, p<0.001) and females (right hand: r = 0.26, p<0.01; left hand: r = 0.23, p = 0.02). Sex-interaction analysis showed that this correlation was significantly stronger in males than females, suggesting that androgenisation may have experienced stronger selective pressure from endurance running in males. As digit ratio has previously been shown to predict reproductive success, our results are consistent with the hypothesis that endurance running ability may signal reproductive potential in males, through its association with prenatal androgen exposure. However, further work is required to establish whether and how females respond to this signalling for fitness.

Read article here

PLOS

Published: April 8, 2015, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0121560

A New Generation of Master Trackers

Mark&Adriaan

Today we are pleased to announce that Adriaan Louw, South Africa, and Mark Elbroch, USA, have been awarded Master Tracker certificates in recognition of their exceptional contribution to the growth of the art of tracking. They represent a new generation of Master Trackers who is taking the art of tracking into the future – a tradition that goes back hundreds of thousands of years and which may otherwise have died out with the last hunter-gatherers.

CyberTracker will in future recognize five categories of Master Trackers. We honour them not so much as individuals on their own, but for the contribution they have made collectively to the art of tracking as a whole. The different categories of Master Trackers complement one another. Together they have contributed to the growth of tracking in a way that no single individual could have achieved working alone. Significant attributes of the Master Tracker includes humility, wisdom, generosity and the desire to contribute to the growth of others.

The full range of attributes of the Master Tracker categories will in due course be documented and published on the CyberTracker website. A brief summary of the most important attributes include:

Elder Master Tracker

The Master Tracker certificate was created in honour of the memory of the elder generation of indigenous hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari. The Elder Master Trackers were hunter-gatherers who may have passed away before they were officially recognized under the CyberTracker evaluation system, or those who may still be alive but due to old age and poor eyesight may no longer be able to track as well as they did when they were younger. These include the late !Nam!kabe Molote of Lone Tree, Botswana, !Namka and /Xantsue of Bere, Botswana, /Dzau /Dzaku and Xa//nau of Groot Laagte, Botswana, Bahbah, Jehjeh and Hewha, Ngwatle Pan, Botswana, Tso!oma, Ganamasi and Mutsabapu of Old Xade, Central Kalahari, Botswana, !Nani //Kxao, Ghau ≠Oma and Tsisaba Debe of the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, Namibia.

Indigenous Master Tracker

The Indigenous Master Tracker was or still is an indigenous hunter, using the persistence hunting method and/or the traditional poison bow-and-arrow in a hunter-gatherer context.

Master Tracker: Exceptional Practical Skill and Expertise

A Master Tracker who did not practice traditional hunting, but have demonstrated exceptional practical skill and expertise in tracking. In future the minimum requirements will include at least ten years experience after achieving the Senior Tracker certificate, during which time he or she mentored younger trackers, thereby making a contribution to the growth of tracking.

Master Tracker: Exceptional Contribution to the Growth of the Art of Tracking

A Master Tracker who contributed to the growth of tracking through the mentoring, evaluation and certification of a significant number of trackers. The minimum requirements include at least ten years experience after achieving the Senior Tracker certificate, during which time he or she mentored younger trackers, and issued a large number of tracker certificates, thereby making a significant contribution to the growth of tracking.

Master Tracker: Original Contribution to the Art of Tracking

A Master Tracker who contributed to the growth of tracking through original publications, including books and/or scientific papers, or developing new technology and/or applying technology to tracking in an innovative way, or achieving a PhD that involved the application of tracking. The minimum requirements include at least ten years experience after achieving the Senior Tracker certificate, during which time he or she published original new knowledge on the art of tracking and/or applying innovative technology to tracking, thereby making a significant contribution to the growth of tracking.

Louis Liebenberg, 23 March, 2015

CyberTracker data shows impact of Ebola on Lowland Gorillas

GorillaThe outbreak of Ebola in West Africa have resulted in huge cost in human lives and economic losses. Even the indirect economic impact on Africa as a whole has been huge as tourists have cancelled visits to Africa due to the fear of Ebola. In future it may be more cost-effective to monitor signs of potential outbreaks of Ebola among wildlife, especially along trade routes that may spread Ebola to highly populated areas.

The BBC reports that Bill Gates says “surveillance systems” are needed to spot the signs of a disease outbreak earlier and prevent crises like the Ebola situation in West Africa. See BBC Report here.

A cost-effective solution may include forest patrols especially along trade routes that could introduce Ebola via bush meat to high population areas. As indicated by the attached images, Ebola may be introduced to humans via the consumption of Duiker and Bush Pig. Using CyberTracker to monitor the tracks & signs of Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Duiker and Bush Pig may indicate potential outbreaks of Ebola even before it infects human populations.

Data collected from 2000 to 2003 by trackers working for the ECOFAC programme and using the CyberTracker have showed up the extent of the Lowland Gorilla mortality due to Ebola in the Lossi Sanctuary, Republic of Congo.

Wild animal outbreaks began before each of the 5 human Ebola outbreaks. Twice we alerted the health authorities to an imminent risk for human outbreaks, weeks before they occurred.

Impact of Ebola 1

Impact of Ebola 2

Impact of Ebola 3

This information has been confirmed by the Spanish primatologist, Dr Magdalena Bermejo, who has studied the gorillas in Lossi for ten years, and by the veterinaries of the International Medical Research Center of Franceville (CIRMF).

All the eight families (139 individuals) followed by Dr Bermejo since 1994 have now disappeared from the study area (40 km2). Two of these families were habituated to human presence. This habituation was not only a first with lowland gorillas but also was a first sight tourism experience in association with villages.

The CIRMF veterinaries have been able to collect a lot of samples and to confirm the presence of the virus in Chimpanzees and Gorillas. And, carcasses from other species have been found in the same area. Abundance indications collected on other species by the trackers, such as Duiker and Bush Pig, (see table) indicates that these species were also infected by Ebola.

Ebola, like other emerging diseases, remains a critical area of study to be explored not only to understand large primate dynamics and for their conservation, but for its potential impact on humans.

Wild animal mortality monitoring and human Ebola outbreaks