One common misconception about domestication is that wildlife can be domesticated in just a few generations, or that any animal can be domesticated. The elephant is a prime example of an animal that humans have failed to domesticate, despite thousands of years of trying.
When you think of domestic animals, you probably think of our companion animals, primarily cats and dogs. Domestication is the process of adapting plants or animals for human use, including farmed animals and pets. This practice takes thousands of years of living alongside animals and selectively breeding them and is extremely difficult work. Here’s what you need to know about human domestication of animals, including which animals have been domesticated through the course of human history.
There are many qualities that genetically separate a domesticated animal from their original wild species. Early chickens, for example, used to weigh around two pounds. Through selective breeding over the course of thousands of years, however, chickens now weigh as much as 17 pounds. Dogs are thought to have been domesticated from gray wolves and are now clearly a different species in size, behavior, and appearance. It is estimated to take at least 12 generations of selective breeding to create a domesticated species.
From Domesticated to Domestic
Many animals originally domesticated for human use no longer serve their original purpose but are still in humans’ lives today. The dog, known today as human’s best friend, was originally domesticated to be a hunting companion, pull sleds, guard camps, and more. As humans began to develop other resources to replace dogs, they stuck around as companion animals. Similarly, cats were once used as rodent hunters, a role which they still serve in countries around the world today. In the US, however, cats are now more beloved family members than fearsome protectors.