Imagine an apex predator that has become technological advanced, but has kept "hunting with tooth and claw" in its daily routine as a way to feed itself (cultural, traditional reasons and such). So no technology or tools allowed. Being civilized, the creature wants a way to efficiently kill its prey and with a minimum of pain and mess. What methods would this predator use? To be clear, I'm interested in the kill, not the hunt itself. So far I have thought of the way lion's kill (choking the prey) and slicing the throat, though I believe the latter, without sedation, is not painless at all.

Edit: just to be clear, not looking for gruesome depictions or descriptions, but looking for as less violence as possible.

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    $\begingroup$ One would think that if the predator is committed to culture and tradition to the point where it kills prey itself without tech or tools, the prey animal will suffer in the way which is also traditional for this mode of dispatch. A determination that for minimum suffering by prey, the predator should suffocate the prey using its tail fur as a pillow would result in a non-traditional prey/predator interaction. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Oct 18, 2020 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ Valid point, though I do think it is possible to keep the core of your tradition while simultaneously making some adjustments to make the tradition fit in modern society and/or believes. We as humans do that as well. So non-traditional interaction for the kill is allowed here, if it helps keeping pain and mess to a minimum. $\endgroup$
    – Century
    Oct 18, 2020 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ I can't speak for other animals, but as a mammal myself, from experience I can say that being choked out (brain bloodflow restriction, not air) is probably the most "pleasant" way to go. Your vision closes in black and then nothing--its basically painless (if deeply uncomfortable and scary) and is probably the most humane way of tool-unaided killing short of instant brain-death or decapitation. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Oct 18, 2020 at 22:34
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    $\begingroup$ Please keep in mind that our Stack is being watched concerning violence and gruesome depictions. In other words, please set your expectations. Anyone who posts details beyond a subjective limit may be edited or deleted (despite you asking for a humane solution, funny world we live in). $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Oct 18, 2020 at 22:39
  • $\begingroup$ is it need to be base on scientific fact in painless kill, or base on the society or culture? since theres many culture that has their own opinion regarding what considered as painless death even in modern day. $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    Oct 18, 2020 at 23:07

9 Answers 9


Only the Kill, Not the Hunt

For this civilized predator, if only the kill is important due to cultural and traditional reasons, these predators can follow the same routine that most humans in various parts of the world follow.

The daily routine of an average predator will be like, Go to the nearby shopping complex (or a basic street market), pick up the prey of your choice (like an alien rabbit, a chicken, or goat). During dinner time, give your prey some water to drink, mixed with powerful sleeping agents (no side effects for predators), once its unconscious, a more traditional predator can use its tooth or claw to break the neck or a modern one can use an artificial claw machine that basically works like a butcher knife, minus the bloody mess.



The cone snail inject a neurotoxin that paralyzes and kills it's prey. Some also feature a pain killer to keep the prey calm while dying. enter image description here Poison can easily be the fastest, cleanest and least painful way to die (It can also be the slowest, messist and most painful way to die too)

  • $\begingroup$ If they're allowed to use plants, I'm sure there are also some psychoactive substances they could employ (powerful opiates, maybe?) that would cause the prey to not realize what's happening as they dispatch it by more traditional means. Also, if dipping their claws in poison is acceptable, that could work around a lack of having innate poison. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Oct 19, 2020 at 13:32

Like it always has been done.

If this creature traditionally hunted by walking its victim to death, then that is how it would do so traditionally.

Tradition does not care about how painful something is.

But that is beside the point. How does a well cultured individual kill? For convenience to itself.

Why? Because a well cultured individual does not wish to spend more time on the killing than it either wants to, or has to. Its certainly not because it would cause the least amount of pain to the prey.

Why? Because its prey, not an equal. If the suffering of the prey is to have any significance its is because:

  1. it genuinely affects the taste/nutrition.
  2. The predator is going to receive flack for it from equals, or institutions it participates in.
  3. The predator feels bad for it, making it more of a pet than prey.

Today there are wide variety of methods for dispatching prey animals: Bolts to the head, throat slitting, suffocation, neck breaking, poison/sleeping compounds, etc...

Some places don't even bother to kill first and simply start disassembling the animal straight away. Death is a consequence. This isn't too dissimilar to the feeding patterns of numerous predators who don't have the luxury of killing the prey first (Orca), or eat the prey whole (Frog), or have already sufficiently restrained the prey (Boa Constrictor).

However lets presume that this predator wants the quadfecta of efficiency for itself, minimal pain for its prey, cultured tradition, and no tools.

First the species has dissected numerous specimens of the prey, some of them while they were still very much alive to identify the pain system, neural pathways, and senses.

Second they would have to understand the organisation of the thinking being done by the prey, and which part of the thinking they desire to not feel pain. In some species this will not be possible.

Case in point are plants, they have no nervous system but a highly developed chemical thinking. There is no way to prevent a tree from experiencing "pain" as it makes sense to them.

Alternately with animals its possible to prevent the conscious perception of pain, even though other parts of thinking are well aware of the pain.

Third with this cultured knowledge and having defined what "painless death" means, and then a prey animal for which its possible reasonably to provide this too.

  • They kill during the time when this system is at its least arousable. In our world this would be at the deepest part of sleep, about 2-4hours in.

  • They aim to severe/obliterate the pain receptor system immediately and follow up by dispatching in whatever manner is reasonable. In our world the brain stem is the oldest part of the brain, and is also responsible for processing pain. Obliterating this part of the brain serves to provide much of the value in a "painless death".

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    $\begingroup$ "If this creature traditionally hunted by walking its prey to death" LOL $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2020 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDaleks True fact, walking/running a creature to death is actually a hunting strategy still in use by a Human hunter/gatherer society in Africa. Also the original hunting strategy employed by ancient homonids. $\endgroup$
    – Kain0_0
    Oct 19, 2020 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ I know; that's why I found it funny. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2020 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Kain0_0 and not completely used only by humans, many komodo dragons use a variation of that and hunt by giving its prey a first venomous bite and following it around waiting for it to reach a state in which it can't really prevent itself from being eaten. They're essentially acting like a persistence predator, but with the use of venom to speed things up. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2020 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ @ProjectApex Nice. $\endgroup$
    – Kain0_0
    Oct 20, 2020 at 23:18

Cougars and other large cats prefer to strangle their prey. When done professionally (and for most predators it can't be in any other way) it is a quick (i.e. a few seconds), reliable and not-so-painful death.

This method was used to butcher animals for skin before electricity came in hand. It also was often used by "non-professional" butchers, because you need quite a bit of training to, for example, cut an animal's throat in such a way that it (more or less) instantly kills the animal, and not leave it in hours of agony.

  • $\begingroup$ FYI, I edited your post a (not so) little bit. If you like it better the way it was you can go in the edit history and revert it. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2020 at 11:12

Probably tangential to the answer, but one major issue is that this tradition would likely either disappear or be warped and abstractized as time and civilization development grows.

It's a perfectly fine tradition for relatively low-tech low-population communities, but as they grow and expand, it becomes a less and less efficient way to consume your meal, eventually bumping in the issues that there's just not enough land available for everybody to enjoy their meal-hunt, resulting in the stiffling of the population growth. That, and there's also an issue of the hunt-animal being kept alive until the very moment it is to be hunted, which would add additional expenses and would made long-term reserves unviable - if there's a sudden plague among the livestock that results in most of them dying - your population is screwed if they were unwilling to make stockpiles of frozen meat or refuse to eat in non-traditional way.

In this situation the ones that will go "screw the traditions, I just want to eat!" would instantly get an edge over the competitors, and would be able to multiply their population (Which directly leads to the technological and social advancements) and make it much more resilient via them having to spend less expenses and land area on food production and consumption.

Especially if they're advanced enough, since this implies massive population densities that would made "traditional hunting" to be flat out impossible to anybody except for maybe the priveleged wealthy few who can affort to both own enough land to hunt on and animals to hunt, and to waste time on hunting your meal instead of quickly consuming the meal and buggering off to do something more productive. The rest would have to be content with buying refrigerated meat from slaughterhouses.

  • $\begingroup$ Tangential but an important point. A civilised predator doesn't kill his prey, he has people for that. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Oct 20, 2020 at 10:17
  • $\begingroup$ It is a valid point, and one I will take into account. I think I can work around it, but it is good you pointed it out. $\endgroup$
    – Century
    Oct 21, 2020 at 13:48

I'm assuming that the tooth and claw method means that they'll hunt the target as they always did, but once they get to the prey and are about to kill it they want to do it as painlessly as possible.

They might not use tools and weapons for the kill, but they could still augment themselves in order to make the kill less painful. For example imagine if they can wear a glove-like item on the top of their paws (that doesn't touch the ground) that will excrete a powerful local painkiller the moment their claws extend. This way the moment their nails embed themselves in the target it's local pain centers are immediately shut down and the pain is as short as possible. Should the prey escape it's not (too much) debilitated by the painkiller. Possibly another material can be injected alongside the painkiller to keep the prey awake and moving in order to counteract any sedative effects from the painkiller.

Similarly you could have a pressure-sensitive item that you can insert in the mouth. Upon a bite (a pretty strong one at that to prevent accidents) the item will release a painkiller. This one would need to be calibrated so it does not do much when ingested, and only kills pain when inserted into the bloodstream through a bite (or if you are unlucky a wound in your own mouth. Possibly you can have an edible cream with a neutralizing agent inside your mouth first?).

I can't tell you exactly what substances you have to use, the interplay between painkillers and a dozen other things is just too complex and you would have to ask an anesteasiologist and chemist/apothecary for exact details.


Remember that prey coevolves with predators. For a civilized predator that has never evolved to use tools, the prey should be just as smart and civilized.

Also, pack hunters tend to take out the old and sick of the herd, which are easier kills.

So - approach such a member of the prey species and start a process of seduction.

  1. Strum their pain with your fingers
  2. Sing their life with words
  3. Kill them softly with your song

Seriously now, talk it out with the prey. Arrange the whole thing with them. If you have their consent, it's even vegan. If the prey won't struggle then there won't be much a mess, you can even use drowning or suffocation to avoid a bloody mess; You also avoid using poison, which might spoil the meat.

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    $\begingroup$ Plausible, though my impression wasn't that the hunters don't have tools, but choose (for cultural/religious/whatever reasons) to not use them in this respect. OTOH, I could just about imagine a human killing cattle this way... or especially something like a chicken/turkey/rabbit that's small enough to restrain with your hands. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Oct 19, 2020 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew in ancient greek, pious people would sacrifice animals in a ritualized way to get their "consent". $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2020 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ Sure, my point was that I question your basis for assuming that the prey are also intelligent/civilized. Also, that whether they are or not is irrelevant to the rest of your answer 🙂. As you note, there's precedence for this sort of thing among humans (as another example, consider many native Americans that would "thank" their prey), and our critters aren't sapient. (Okay, admittedly, views on that have differed, especially historically.) $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Oct 19, 2020 at 14:31
  • $\begingroup$ Strangely enough human's prey animals didn't seem to evolve more intelligence through hunting. Nice fable, though. $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Oct 20, 2020 at 9:09

Breed the animal so the animal enjoys praise,and petting (or the chase) so much that it can ignore pain or perceive pain as pleasure for a predictable period of time.

Do at least some number of repeats over some time period, perhaps hours or days before the final time, then use whatever method suited to kill within the time the animal is conscious and pain immune.

The difficult part is proving this to the reader, but you can use technology to do that



The French knew their stuff.

Honestly the guillotine might be even more humane that our current method, read.

Basically it takes about a second to chop a head off.

But it gets better. Because it is chopping it from neck it kills quickly. And this part I'm totally blacking out on but this quickly severs something in the neck that results in a very painless death, or as painless as possible.

And just like the French who needed to do a lot of public murder ASAP the guillotine if very fast and incredibly cheap to make.

I'd wager with our current technologies we can create a super super sharp blade, diamond edges or something, that wont need as much maintenance as steal would. Also perfectly calculated to deliver consistent results.

Quote: "While the moment of execution could be nothing but terrifying, that second of suffering was brief in comparison to the 43 minutes it took for Lockett to die after lethal drugs were administered. "

So. Believe it or not it is much faster and more humane that current methods.

Throat slitting.

Another popular method used to murder animals. A quick movement and the thing is dead. Professional butchers can do it insanely fast and the amount of pain or suffering can cleanly be said as minimal.


Another popular method of murder and it is praised to be a lot faster if the knot is done correctly.

It snaps the neck in an instant and shuts the brain off immediately.

Also quick and easy to use, then it is very cheap as well.

Bonus points for not having blood getting out and ruining your pristine carpet.

So. Basically it's all about the neck. Cut the thing from the back in a quick strike and they person dies almost instantly with like a second of pain.

However neuroscience might need to check into that though. How much actual data we have I simply don't know. We could also argue about what they mean.

But basically we can all agree that a moment of pain will be needed until you shut the whole body down using anesthesia.

Speaking of which. Total anesthesia

Makes a lot of sense honestly. If you can totally drug the person then you don't have much of a problem. Then you can chop them off piece by piece if you want.

Anyway I honestly think that those methods done correctly, like a standard type of guillotine for example, not only offer the best overall method but is even less painful than stuff we currently use against humans. What a depressing sentence that was, and that is coming from someone who believes in capital punishment. But I digress.

Anyway I did not make a lot of distinction between human or other animals here because things should be, overall, the same when it comes to a quick death.

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    $\begingroup$ FYI, death by guillotine isn't especially "fast" (there are records of some severed heads remaining alive for minutes after being severed), but it is still one of the fastest methods. +1. $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2020 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ Then I'd rather advocate a captive bolt pistol, possibly enhanced with fast-acting neurotoxins or a powerful acid. Complete inconsciousness is reached within milliseconds, and death immediately follows. Both unconsciousness and death are faster than guillotine's. If necessary, a more complex setup with multiple bolts ("bolt crown") can be employed. Theoretically, an explosive skullcap with an explosive faster than axonal speed could not be anything but absolutely painless: tissues would first be destroyed, and then reached by the pain signal. $\endgroup$
    – LSerni
    Oct 19, 2020 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ OP said "no technology or tools allowed". $\endgroup$ Oct 19, 2020 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ @TheSquare-CubeLaw, Whoops. Did not notice that to be honest. Thanks for pointing it out. $\endgroup$
    – Seallussus
    Oct 19, 2020 at 14:58

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