Monday, February 28, 2011

Domestication: Real, Myth, or Syndrome?

There is an utterly ridiculous article in the current National Geographic magazine. In short, the article says that any "wild" animal can be made into a "domesticated" animal by selective breeding; that "domestication" is determined by genes.

The writer goes so far as to use Biblical terminology to describe man's creation of domesticated species. And we are told that there is a domestication gene in humans that makes us so special.

The whole article is so ridiculous that I have a hard time keeping myself from accusing National Geographic of deliberate misinformation.

I will promise you this: If you have anything to do with animals and you don't want to be hurt or killed, you need to forget the myths of "wild" and "domestic" and think in terms of "socialized" and "non-socialized".

The article deals with animals in terms of stereotypes, apparently ignorant of real life. In real life, more people are killed by horses (a "domestic" animal) than by pet tigers, a stereotypically "wild" animal--and that's on a per-animal basis (you can't just use raw numbers since there are so many more horses). Cows, stereotypically not merely "domesticated" but downright docile, also kill large numbers of people. I can point out any number of dogs you wouldn't want to go near.

On the other side of the coin are the many so-called "wild" animals that people have as pets, that they have properly socialized and live happily with. Even foxes, the central example of the magazine article.

A key flaw in the "domestication is all in the genes" argument is actually pointed out during the course of the article: In comparing wolf and dog genomes, there appeared to be a link to a gene called WBSCR17, which in humans causes Williams-Beuren syndrome, characterized by "elfin features" (ties in with the author's statement that "domestic animals are cuter than wild animals") and "exceptional gregariousness—its sufferers are often overly friendly and trusting of strangers."

Note that humans with this syndrome are called "sufferers" while at the same time we are told this is something we can breed for in animals.

Anyone with any animal experience knows of the chronic medical problems that some breeds have because of selective breeding for various traits. Now they are going to go after other animals and alter their mental states.

If you want a good relationship with an animal, you have to work to establish that relationship. You don't go about it by warping its brain.

The NatGeo article centers around a breeding program that has produced foxes that cry for companionship. Is that domestication or a personality disorder? It sounds to me like something humans would get psychotropic medications to treat. Here's a story of a family that took in a baby fox and get along with her very well, even though she was "wild".


  1. Domestication determined through an animals genes is a myth. I live out in the forest with a mountain lion I've known since her eyes first opened and a "domesticated" american short hair cat. They act the same. They treat me the same. The only difference is their size. The science of genetics is a scam and relies on a lot on paid assumption. Animals brains, whether they be from a four legged mammal or a bipedal human, are not pre determined due to genetic make up. Every living crerature has the capability and free will to make it own choices despite its genetic make up. The racist and genetically observant at nat geo would sure like to disagree tho.