Hunting is the practice of killing or trapping any animal, or pursuing it with the intent of doing so. Hunting wildlife or feral animals is most commonly done by humans for food, recreation, or trade. In present-day use, lawful hunting is distinguished from poaching, which is the illegal killing, trapping or capture of the hunted species. The species that are hunted are referred to as game and are usually mammals and birds. Hunting can also be a means of pest control. Hunting advocates state that hunting can be a necessary component of modern wildlife management, for example, to help maintain a population of healthy animals within an environment's ecological carrying capacity when natural checks such as predators are absent. However, hunting has also heavily contributed to the endangerment, extirpation and extinction of many animals. The pursuit, capture and release, or capture for food of fish is called fishing, which is not commonly categorised as a form of hunting. It is also not considered hunting to pursue animals without intent to kill them, as in wildlife photography or birdwatching. The practice of foraging or gathering materials from plants and mushrooms is also considered separate. Skillful tracking and acquisition of an elusive target has caused the word hunt to be used in the vernacular as a metaphor, as in treasure hunting, "bargain hunting", and even "hunting down corruption and waste".
Hunting has a long history and may well pre-date the rise of the species Homo sapiens. While our earliest Hominid ancestors were probably frugivores or omnivores, there is evidence that earlier Homo species, and possibly also australopithecine species, utilised larger animals for subsistence. Evidence from western Kenya suggests that hunting has been occurring for more than two million years. Furthermore, evidence exists that hunting may have been one of the multiple environmental factors leading to extinctions of the holocene megafauna and their replacement by smaller herbivores. North American megafauna extinction was coincidental with the Younger Dryas impact event, possibly making hunting a less critical factor in prehistoric species loss than had been previously thought. However, in other locations such as Australia, humans are thought to have played a very significant role in the extinction of the Australian megafauna that was widespread prior to human occupation. Inuit walrus hunters The closest surviving relatives of the human species are the two species of Pan: the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus). Common chimpanzees have an omnivorous diet that includes troop hunting behaviour based on beta males being led by an alpha male. Bonobos have also been observed to occasionally engage in group hunting, but eat a mostly frugivorous diet. While it is undisputed that early humans were hunters, the importance of this for the emergence of the Homo genus from the earlier Australopithecines, including the production of stone tools and eventually the control of fire, are emphasised in the hunting hypothesis and de-emphasised in scenarios that stress omnivory and social interaction, including mating behaviour, as essential in the emergence of human behavioural modernity. With the establishment of language, culture, and religion, hunting became a theme of stories and myths, as well as rituals such as dance and animal sacrifice. Hunting was a crucial component of hunter-gatherer societies before the domestication of livestock and the dawn of agriculture, beginning about 11,000 years ago. By the Mesolithic, hunting strategies had diversified with the development of the bow 18,000 years ago and the domestication of the dog about 15,000 years ago. There is fossil evidence for spear use in Asian hunting dating from approximately 16,200 years ago. Moche deer hunting scene, Larco Museum Collection, Lima, Peru. Ancient Greek black-figure pottery depicting the return of a hunter and his dog. Made in Athens between 550–530 BCE, found in Rhodes. Artemis with a Hind, a Roman copy of an Ancient Greek sculpture, c. 325 BC, by Leochares. Persian miniature depicting king Cyrus the Great of Persia, hunting with several companions Many species of animals have been hunted throughout history. It has been suggested that in North America and Eurasia, caribou and wild reindeer "may well be the species of single greatest importance in the entire anthropological literature on hunting" (see also Reindeer Age), although the varying importance of different species would depend on the geographic location. Hunter-gathering lifestyles remained prevalent in some parts of the New World, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Siberia, as well as all of Australia, until the European Age of Discovery. They still persist in some tribal societies, albeit in rapid decline. Peoples that preserved paleolithic hunting-gathering until the recent past include some indigenous peoples of the Amazonas (Aché), some Central and Southern African (San people), some peoples of New Guinea (Fayu), the Mlabri of Thailand and Laos, the Vedda people of Sri Lanka, and a handful of uncontacted peoples. In Africa, the only remaining full-time hunter-gatherers are the Hadza of Tanzania