Ungulate Hunting and Pastoralism

Throughout prehistory and history, human interactions with hoofed mammals (or ungulates) including deer, horses, cows, pigs, llamas, buffalo, sheep, and goats have been more consequential for both mankind and the environment than those with any other group of animals. In ancient Egypt, domesticated cattle were kept for their milk and as draft animals, while large herds of grazing ungulates roamed freely in the Nile River delta. Beef consumption was reserved for the elite, except on ceremonial occasions, while sheep, goats, and pigs were raised for their meat. Pastoralism was a practical solution to desertification in northern Africa, even though ancient livestock was frail and thin compared with modern breeds, readily succumbing to environmental stresses. Milk rather than meat was the staple protein for most of the annual cycle. Pas-toralism evidently became an important means of human survival in the Sahara Desert some 7,000 or 8,000 years ago. Cattle, sheep, and goats were imported by herders migrating from the once fertile crescent of southwestern Asia and Arabia, areas that had become desiccated at an earlier period. Pastoralism in Africa was largely limited to open savanna areas, since the heavy canopy in equatorial forest shut out sunlight, preventing the growth of the grasses necessary for foraging. Farming on the scale of Eurasian agriculture was simply not possible under these environmental conditions.

South of the Sahara, the raising of cattle was at first limited to regions without the blood-sucking tsetse fly, common in the forest boundary zones, which spread trypanoso-miasis. But in modern times, eastern and southern African societies are widely char acterized by what anthropologists call the cattle complex. Cattle serve important socioeconomic functions, not only in providing milk, meat, horn, and hides but also as property, bridewealth, and an instrument for the maintenance of kinship ties. Dependence on cattle complexes has occasionally led to disastrous consequences for humans, however, along with the benefits. During the 1890s a historic epidemic of rinderpest, a deadly viral cattle plague carried by beasts imported from India, struck and killed some 90 percent of domesticated cattle and buffalo, as well as many of the wild ungulates then extant in southern Africa; it led to economic collapse and widespread famine. The San people of Botswana found that the cattle industry, supported by European colonialists, encroached on their wild grazing lands, which were converted to pasture for domesticated livestock. During the 1950s more than 60 percent of the remaining big game in Botswana's Kalahari region, including wildebeests and hartebeests, perished (ibid., pp. 37-39). The ecological pressure of roaming livestock grazing on open land has nearly wiped out the indigenous ecosystems of the Okavango delta, as cows crowd out the once plentiful herds of elephant, buffalo, and red lechwe (ibid., p. 4). Modern Kalahari people descended from the historical intermingling of Khoekhoen (Khoi-khoi, or Hottentot) herders and San hunter-gatherers are designated by the anthropological term Khoisan. Today, most Khoisan people in the Kalahari have adapted to herding and agriculture, with only about 5 percent still subsisting primarily by hunting and gathering.

The North American Great Plains, this continent's largest biome and today one of the world's most abundant granaries and cattle pasturages, was the ancestral home of large herds of bison (also known as American buffalo). Estimated at some 30 million in 1800, the bison were nearly destroyed in a period of just fifty years. During the nineteenth century the expanding Euroamerican fur trade grew increasingly dependent on Indian hunters providing food and hides for the influx of settlers. The introduction of guns, diseases, and new markets for leather products in eastern North America upset the ecological balance traditionally maintained by native peoples and quickly led to the demise of the bison or American buffalo in the West (ibid., pp. 35-36). By the end of the nineteenth century, the great bison herds of the Plains had diminished to fewer than 1,000 animals.

The horse is indigenous to North America, but it had long been extinct on the continent when it was reintroduced by the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1519. West of the Great Lakes, the Indians upon whom the fur traders would come to depend began hunting bison on horseback. Horses were used to advantage in war, as well as in hunting and for transportation, communication, and trade. Those cultures with horses consequently became highly mobile and expansive, as their herds increased. In the Southwest, the Apache obtained horses sometime after 1630. Another seventy years would pass before they began supplying horses to the Comanche and Ute. Horses spread northward from the Plains during the early part of the eighteenth century as Shoshonean peoples traded them to the Black-foot (Siksika), and the Kiowa obtained them from the Comanche. The Lakota, the first mounted hunters to shoot bison with guns, used the military advantage conferred by the combination to gain control of the northeastern plains.

Anthropologist Julian Steward's influential theory of cultural ecology emphasized the role of adaptation to the environment in causing cultural change, while stopping short of an absolute environmental determinism. Thus, by changing their way of life, Shoshonean peoples, who had previously lived in small hunting bands, were able to amalgamate their tribes and become successful warriors, following the acquisition of horses and the occupation of their lands by Euroamericans (Steward, 1955). Martin (1987) ran simulations of the populating of the New World showing that in prehistoric times, Paleoindians had quickly hunted the American megafauna to extinction, but attributing the much later demise of the American buffalo solely to the incursion of whites into Indian territories. This has become the generally accepted view of the herds' demise. However, Isenberg (2000) and Krech (2000) recently reconsidered the destruction of the bison, arguing against the romanticized image of Indian societies having lived in perfect ecological balance prior to the invasion of the white man. Diamond (1999) has mapped out the major role played by the introduction of germs, evolved inside domesticated Eurasian livestock serving as hosts and carried with them across the Atlantic, in the European conquest of indigenous societies in both the Old and New Worlds.

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