02/06/07 - domesticated animals

In today's excerpt - only fourteen of the world's 148 species of big mammals have ever been domesticated, even though domesticated animals have been crucial to the societies possessing them, and despite repeated attempts to domesticate other species:

"If one defines 'big' as 'weighing over 100 pounds,' then only 14 such species were domesticated before the twentieth century. Of those Ancient Fourteen, 9 became important livestock for people in only limited areas of the globe: the Arabian camel, Bactrian camel, llama/alpaca, ... donkey, reindeer, water buffalo, yak, banteng and gaur. Only 5 species became important around the world. Those Major Five of mammal domestication are the cow, sheep, goat, pig and horse. ...

"Why did the other 134 species fail [to be domesticated]? ... To be domesticated, a candidate wild species must possess [five] characteristics. ...

"Diet. ... If you want to grow 1,000 pounds of carnivore, you have to feed it 10,000 pounds of herbivore grown on 100,000 pounds of corn. ... As a result of this fundamental inefficiency, no mammalian carnivore has ever been domesticated for food. ... Growth Rate. To be worth keeping, domesticates must also grow quickly. ... Problems of Captive Breeding. ... Some potentially valuable animal species don't like to have ... sex under the watchful eyes of others. ... Nasty Disposition. ... Some large animals have much nastier dispositions and are more incurably dangerous than are others. Social Structure. ... Domesticated large mammals ... share three social characteristics: they live in herds; they maintain a well-developed dominance hierarchy among herd members; and the herds occupy overlapping home ranges rather than mutually exclusive territories."


Jared M. Diamond


Guns, Germs and Steel: the fates of human societies


W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


Copyright 1999, 1997 by Jared Diamond


159, 168-172
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