General Question

_zen_'s avatar

Should we, or should we not, domesticate more animals?

Asked by _zen_ (7799 points ) June 16th, 2011

We seem to have stopped domesticating animals, and are happy with what we have. Cows, pigs, chickens and goats – all were domesticated centuries ago – all were once wild.

We have no problem keeping other wild animals in zoos and regulated safaris – for study and for pleasure. We use some animals for testing in labs – from rats and mice through monkeys.

So why have we stopped domesticating animals?

What animals might we do so and what products could we get from them?

I can think of several animals whose milk, skin or meat would be good or even better than pork and cattle’s.

So if you aren’t a vegetarian, why would or wouldn’t you continue to domesticate other kinds of animals for consumption and use?

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27 Answers

syz's avatar

For the most part, those species that we have domesticated have demonstrated that they meet multiple criteria to varying degrees. They provide a useful function or product, they are willing to breed in captivity, they are reasonably safe to work with (placid temperament and unlikely to panic), have an easily supplied diet, and have a reasonably fast growth rate.

The number of non-domesticated species that fit all of those criteria to an acceptable degree is actually pretty small. The ratio of value to cost makes it not worth the effort. (While some of those features can be adjusted to some degree by selective breeding, the basic benefit must still exist.)

It could be argued that ostrich and emu farming, bison herds, and captive salmon production are examples of domestication-in-process.

_zen_'s avatar

^ Very true:

According to evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond, animal species must meet six criteria in order to be considered for domestication:

1.Flexible diet — Creatures that are willing to consume a wide variety of food sources and can live off less cumulative food from the food pyramid (such as corn or wheat), particularly food that is not utilized by humans (such as grass and forage) are less expensive to keep in captivity. Carnivores by definition feed primarily or only on animal tissue, which requires the expenditure of many animals, though they may exploit sources of meat not utilized by humans, such as scraps and vermin.
2.Reasonably fast growth rate — Fast maturity rate compared to the human life span allows breeding intervention and makes the animal useful within an acceptable duration of caretaking. Large animals such as elephants require many years before they reach a useful size.
3.Ability to be bred in captivity — Creatures that are reluctant to breed when kept in captivity do not produce useful offspring, and instead are limited to capture in their wild state. Creatures such as the panda, antelope and giant forest hog are territorial when breeding and cannot be maintained in crowded enclosures in captivity.
4.Pleasant disposition — Large creatures that are aggressive toward humans are dangerous to keep in captivity. The African buffalo has an unpredictable nature and is highly dangerous to humans; similarly, although the American bison is raised in enclosed ranges in the US West, it is much too dangerous to be regarded as truly domesticated. Although similar to the domesticated pig in many ways, the American peccary and Africa’s warthog and bushpig are also dangerous in captivity.
5.Temperament which makes it unlikely to panic — A creature with a nervous disposition is difficult to keep in captivity as it may attempt to flee whenever startled. The gazelle is very flighty and it has a powerful leap that allows it to escape an enclosed pen. Some animals, such as the Domestic sheep, still have a strong tendency to panic when their flight zone is crossed. However, most sheep also show a flocking instinct, whereby they stay close together when pressed. Livestock with such an instinct may be herded by people and dogs.
6.Modifiable social hierarchy — Social creatures that recognize a hierarchy of dominance can be raised to recognize a human as the pack leader.

I was watching a program about the brain – and the difference between ours and the chimps’ – even though we are 99% similar genetically.

Is there a reason why chimps don’t fit the above criteria – other than their being cute and similar to us?

YoBob's avatar

I disagree that we have stopped our attempts at domesticating new species. Take the emu, for example. It was not until very recently that somebody got the bright idea to to try to turn emu into a viable alternative meat product.

_zen_'s avatar

^ True – we haven’t stopped completely.

Coloma's avatar

I think Komodo dragons might be a nice addition as a family pet.

@YoBob

The Emu scene rallied for a short while, but, in my neighborhood there are lots of Emus hanging around peoples properties just being Emus, after the big craze of the 90’s went Emu belly up.

Out here you can hardly GIVE an Emu away. lol

syz's avatar

What would be the benefit of domestication of chimps? Medical research? The cost/benefit ratio is questionable; they mature slowly, reproduce slowly, can be very dangerous, and are expensive to house.

I would argue that chimps and other primates exist outside of the parameters of discussion of domestication because of their unique position of being self-aware and relatively intelligent, a unique ethical and moral sensitivity.

YoBob's avatar

@Coloma – I’m not saying it was a success (in fact I actually know a couple of folks who lost their proverbial behinds by starting an emu ranch back in the early 90’s). I’m just saying that our attempts at new domestication opportunities have not stopped.

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Coloma's avatar

Well, in some ways we have continued. The Emus are an example, as are the western Buffalo ( Bison) , another craze that had people in my area fencing off their land with 2 inch cables and telephone poles a decade or so ago.

I used to be an exotic poultry fancier and one can also order all varieties of exotic swans, cranes, etc. for domestic breeding purposes.

My daughter did her best to talk me into ordering a pair of Japanese Cranes once at over 3k a pair.

People have domesticated Zebras and crossed then with donkeys to get Zonkeys in the last few decades too

And Savannah cats and other exotic domestic cat breeds that have been filtered in with wild blood too.

I am sure there are more examples I just can’t think of right now. :-)

redfeather's avatar

What animal’s milk would you drink that hasn’t already been domesticated? I get creeped out when I think too hard about cow milk.

Coloma's avatar

@redfeather

In Mongolia they drink mares milk, and in Nepal Yaks milk, I don’t know, maybe Water Buffalo, Wildebeast, Giraffe, Elephant…it would have to be a big, hooved mammal, kinda hard to milk a Mongoose. lol

redfeather's avatar

Aren’t most of those domesticated? What about whale’s milk? Oh man!

Coloma's avatar

@redfeather

Oh yeah, whale or seal milk, that would be some rich, fat ladden milk. If you want to grow to the size of a whale, drink whale milk. haha

Yeas, true, mares milk would be domesticated for sure, Yaks, well, only in some places, so, I guess, yes & no. ;-)

No Yak farmers in America most likely.

OH..what about Reindeer milk!

_zen_'s avatar

This is General. You guys might want to visit the chatrooms.

redfeather's avatar

I feel like I’ve seen reindeer farms. Bear milk?

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crisw's avatar

We actually have a lot more domesticated species than the ones you mentioned. But, if you’re really interested in a thorough discussion of what species the FAO thinks have the potential to be domesticated, here you go.

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marinelife's avatar

Do we need any more domestic animals? That is what drives the domestication process.

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augustlan's avatar

[mod says] Please remember: This question is in the General Section. Responses must be helpful and on-topic.

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seperate_reality's avatar

How would you like an alien society having this same discussion, but about humans? I think we should leave animals in the wild and just help keep them safe from not so ethical humans.

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
mattbrowne's avatar

We should not.

More and more animals are “domesticating” themselves because humans invade more and more of their space. Many have no choice but invade ours. Animals who learn to coexist survive.

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