When man began taming the wild world

When man began taming the wild world
Sachin Rai
ORIGIN OF SPECIES: The Red Jungle Fowl
Man’s best friend — the dog — was domesticated from the grey wolf. The process of domestication possibly began about 32,000 years ago. A dog’s DNA analysis showed that the modern dog’s ancestors are the ancient European wolves that are now extinct.

In today’s times, with so many domestic animals in our surroundings, one is always curious to find from where and when did these animals come into our day-to-day lives. Humans have learnt to use animals for their convenience, be it for protection, food, milk, transportation or amusement. It must have been a long process to change a wild animal into a tame pet.

After dogs, man domesticated the sheep, especially for wool and meat, between 9,000-11,000 BC. Today’s sheep has evolved from the wild sheep called Mouflon, still found in Iraq and Iran. Around 9,000 BC, the wild pig was domesticated mainly for meat in China and western Asia. Later, around 8,000 BC, man used wild goats of Iran to procure milk that soon became domesticated in man’s life. Interestingly, the cow originated from its wild ancestors called Aurochs in three different regions at almost the same time — Europe, Asia and North Africa in 8,000 BC. The Indian cow called Zebu — having a hump — ancestors of which were also called Aurochs are extinct today; its origin was in India. The purpose of this creature was milk, meat and transportation.

Later, in around 7,500 BC, the cat was domesticated from its ancestor — African wildcat — from western Asia to be used for religious purposes, pest control and to be kept as pets. However, till this time, no bird had been tamed. And it was in India that the chicken which was domesticated from its wild ancestor — the Red Jungle Fowl — in 6,000 BC. Almost same time, however, it is believed that the same fowl was also domesticated in Thailand to be consumed as meat and eggs.

In 5,000 BC, the donkey was domesticated from African wild ass in Egypt which was used purely transportation and working in agricultural fields. Around 4,000 BC, the water buffalo was domesticated from India and China with the primary purpose of procuring milk and meat, along with working in fields. Its ancestors are the wild water buffalo, which still survive in the wild.

Speed came into human lives with the domestication of horses around 4,000 BC, which were used mainly for transportation. Their ancestors are the wild horses who came from the Eurasian Steppes like Mongolia and Kazakhstan. The horse’s ancestors are now very rare to find in the wild. The camel came around the same time from Arabia. It was the biggest animal domesticated mainly for transportation of heavy loads. Wild camels, the camel’s ancestors are now possibly extinct in Arabia. Man went on to tame even insects for their use; the wild silk moth was disciplined for silk in China in 3,000 BC. Even today, we continue to use our intellect to domesticate wild species. The hedgehog was domesticated in the 1980s from its wild ancestor — the four-toes hedgehog — to be used as pets in Africa.

Life without these animals would have been incomplete. Looking at these animals, one feels that they originated to support the human lifestyle. Besides that, man’s intellect has made it possible to use them for his own motives as well.

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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