Why Cant All Animals Be Domesticated
by Natalie Wolchover
About 11,000 years ago, humans realized there was a better place for some animals than the other end of a spear. We started coaxing them into our settlements, gradually molding their natures to better suit our needs for food, labor and companionship. Over the millennia, we dabbled with the domestication of many species. But only a few — most notably, the cow, goat, sheep, chicken, horse, pig, dog and cat — have proved themselves so useful that they have piggybacked their way across the globe, flourishing almost everywhere humans do.
But why just those animals? Why not the rhinoceros, tiger, zebra, or any of the hundreds of other seemingly suitable creatures that didn’t make the cut, and by consequence have been relegated to an ever-diminishing share of Earth’s land and resources?
According to the evolutionary physiologist and geographer Jared Diamond, in his acclaimed book “Guns, Germs and Steel” (Norton, 1997), there are six criteria that animals must meet for domestication. Many species come close, but very few fit the bill.
First, domestic animals cannot be picky eaters; they must be able to find enough food in and around human settlements to survive. The herbivores, such as cows and sheep, must be able to forage on grass and eat our surplus grain supplies. Carnivores, such as dogs and cats, must be willing to scavenge on human waste and scraps, as well as the vermin that those morsels attract…
(read more: Lifes Little Mysteries)
(image: Lionel Walter Rothschild (1868-1937), 2nd Baron Rothschild, with his famed zebra carriage, which he frequently drove through London. Zebras have been successfully tamed only rarely.)