Fair Chase

On the plains of New Mexico, a band of elite marathoners tests a controversial theory of evolution: that humans can outrun the fastest animals on earth.

By Charles Bethea

Andrew Musuva

Hot pursuit: Andrew Musuva  (Photo by Ryan Heffernan)

THROUGH THE BINOCULARS I see them: nine tiny men in bright jerseys running in formation across the vast short-grass prairie of eastern New Mexico. They’re chasing a tawny pronghorn antelope through the crackling stalks of late summer’s fading wild sunflowers. The buck weighs about 130 pounds, like the men racing after it, but that’s about the only thing they have in common.

The pronghorn is the second-fastest animal on earth, while the men are merely elite marathon runners who are trying to verify a theory about human evolution. Some scientists believe that our ancestors evolved into endurance athletes in order to hunt quad­rupeds by running them to exhaustion. If the theory holds up, the antelope I’m watching will eventually tire and the men will catch it. Then they’ll have to decide whether to kill it for food or let it go.

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