|Domestication was started by our early ancestors
who realized the potential of certain wild animals to perform tasks and provide
humans with a reliable source of food and clothing. The effects of
domestication vary in different animals. The dog bears little resemblance
to its ancestor, the wolf, yet still retains some of the wolfs wild instincts.
The pig, on the other hand, bred purely for its meat, has none of the natural
instincts of its predecessor, the wild boar.
Origins of Domestication: Wild animal domestication began in 9000 B. C. when nomadic tribes started building permanent settlements and herding together animals they had previously only hunted. Mainly mammals and birds were domesticated to provide meat, milk, and eggs as well as wool and hides. Larger mammals were used to carry or pull heavy loads. Hunters first used the dog to track down and kill other wild animals. It also provided protection and gradually evolved into a companion. Certain breeds of dog were bred for their appearance and do not look similar to their ancestor the wolf, but some breeds retain wolf like features. Still, even dogs that look different share common ancestors. For example, the closely related but different looking Rottweillers and chihuahua were carefully bred to fulfill different purposes for their owners.
The cat was domesticated for its beauty, but it developed into a rat catcher. The cats ancestor was probably the easily tamed African wildcat rather than the untamable European cat. The ancient Egyptians mummified cats in their royal family tombs. French monks domesticated the rabbit before 1000 A.D. The rabbits rapid reproduction provided meat and fur.
Can All Animals Be Domesticated? Many species’ wild instincts make them impossible to domesticate. Attempts to domesticate the zebra have failed. Other wild animals are kept as pets. Indian princes used the cheetah for hunting, and the hyena is kept as a guard in some parts of Africa. These animals are not truly domesticated and will go wild if they escape. Even household pets such as the guinea pig and hamster, must be caged to keep them from escaping.
The Horse: Today's different breeds of horses evolved from herds of wild horses that roamed the plains of Asia. The first people probably hunted the horse for its meat, as they did with most large, herd animals. They eventually began using it as a beast of burden and a means of transportation. The rare Przewalski's horse is the only true wild horse to survive today. Selective breeding changed the wild horses appearance as an adaptation for its specific use. For example, the heavy shire horse that pulls carts and plows and the sleek race horse are adapted for different purposes.
Can Domestication Be Reversed? Whether or not domesticated animals could survive on their own depends on their degree of domestication. A hardy breed of hill sheep that still retains its wild survival instinct would probably do well on its own. But the large white pig, which has been bred to produce large amounts of meat, does not have the ability to fend for itself. Formerly a domesticated animal, the Australian dingo escaped into the wild and quickly reverted to its wild state. Many colonies of feral (returned to the wild) city cats have behavior patterns much like the wildcats. But certain breeds of pet would have difficulty surviving in the wild because they have become too tame to compete with other animals.
Some Domestic Animals and Their Origins:
Some Unusual Domestic Animals:
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