Zebra vs Horses: Animal Domestication


Sheep… weren’t always this fluffy. We fluffy-fied them by breeding the fluffiest in each generation. This is domestication: sculpting wild animals for better human use. As we saw in Part 1, for early man, animals were powerful tools …food, clothing, transportation, tractors. Yet, though there were animals everywhere, only a handful were domesticated in the pre-modern world. What made these different? Let’s make a domestication checklist, shall we? First up: Feedable A cow is a machine that turns grass into steaks And a tiger a machine that turns steaks into… tiger. Ten pounds of grass make a pound of steak. And ten pounds of steak make a pound of tiger. … but these have the same number of calories — so you might as well just eat the cow and save yourself a lot of work. So pure carnivores: you’re not going to domesticate, just because of thermodynamics. You’re looking for herbivores that aren’t picky. They should eat something that’s everywhere that you can’t eat. Any omnivores better be happy eating whatever and better be super worth it. We are, however, putting the pig before the pen here because first we need to catch something that’s… Friendly OK, obviously catching a carnivore is a bad idea anyway because their day job is murder. But plenty of omnivores like grizzleys moonlight in murder. No safety in vegetarians either: buffalo are terrifying tanks for all the reasons mentioned before… …hippos hold the murder high-score in Africa, …giraffes look real dorky until you consider their striking range — lions mostly leave them alone. Animals it would be awesome to domesticate are, not coincidentally, super dangerous. War bears would be a hell of an advantage for your tribe, but it’s not going to happen. And if it’s big and not dangerous, it’s a nervous wreck. Try sneaking up on a gazelle? Rhymes with “LOL”. Sure, you and a team of buddies could spend the whole day marathon jogging it down to exhaustion… …but if it doesn’t break it’s own neck as you try to drag it back home, …then it’s going to casually leap out of whatever pen you built for it. Ok, next up: some animals have reproductive -ah- preferences… …that make them incompatible with captivity. Looking at you, Pandas. The time and energy humans have spent to get pandas to get on with it is comical. Hunter-Gatherers need an animal so eager to breed, it gets it wrong sometimes. … not an animal whose mating seasons they have to keep careful track of. So: Friendly, Feedable and — Fecund. It also needs to grow up fast. This gets us to the heart of domestication versus taming. Again: to domesticate a species is to change it to make it better for us. And side note here: we domesticate plants as well. We’ve bred them to be monstrous versions of their wild selves. So when hippies talk about going back to nature, they forget that these plants are just as man made as this pop-tart. Anyway, back to the animals… The pig porkification project succeeded because pig generations are shorter than human generations. A single, clever human can make porky progress in their lifetime. Compare and contrast: Elephants. Two years to make a calf, five years in between calves, nine years until female maturity, fifteen years for males? You’ve got to be kidding, Elephants. There’s no time for this. But humans can still tame elephants. You can catch an elephant, and train it not to freak out around humans. Then, put it to work. But elephant domestication would require accurate records over several human lives… …never mind that keeping one or two tamed elephants around is incredibly costly …which is why war elephants only happened on occasion in already complex societies. Tame elephants are a luxury, hence this rule of thumb: if it’s on farm, it’s domesticated, if it’s in a circus, it’s tame. Finally: families. OK: zebra vs horses. Horses are civilization game-changers — it’s remarkable to think that from thousands BC until the telegraph… …a dude on a horse was the best internet available. Horses were domesticated in Eurasia, but humans started in Africa which has Zebra … …why didn’t the first humans ride out of Africa on the backs of zebra to conquer the world? Because zebra are bastards. They live to kick and bite: dangerous in a pre-penicillin world. …and zebra also have a ducking reflex making them very frustrating to lasso. In addition to being a real pain in the ass animal, Zebra lack a family structure. Horse herds hierarchy — you can see it when they travel in a line: the male, top female, her foals, second female, her foals, and so on. Humans, by capturing and taming the lead male, become head horse. Lots of barnyard animals are barnyard animals because they have family values humans exploit — …they just grow up with the idea that this human is a funny sort of take-charge cow or whatever. No big deal. Chickens will peck, peck, peck until they’ve worked out who’s top chicken. But you know whose really top chicken? We’re top chicken. Dogs and cats: this is what makes them different. Dogs will love you and defend you and hunt with you because you’re part of the pack. Dogs live to be useful to us — which in the modern world means falling over to play dead — but they love it “Bang! …. Good girl. Good girl!” [laughing] … whereas a cat is a tiny tiger that lives in your house. Ok, back to these guys. For zebra, there’s no such thing as society. They hang out in groups because it’s a good survival strategy but they don’t really care. Catch a zebra and his family won’t follow, try to ride him and you’ll be lucky to keep your fingers. Zebra look like horses on the outside, but not on the inside. So that’s the checklist:
Friendly – Feedable – Fecund – Family Friendly It’s not a long checklist, but for Hunter-Gatherers, any animal they wanted to domesticate needed everything,… …which is why in early human history only a bakers dozen of big animals were domesticated the world over. [music] This video has been brought to you by audible.com. And if you like checklists as much as I do,… I’m going to recommend to you the book “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande. Yes! There’s an entire book about how important and life-changing checklists can be… …and what makes a good checklist and what makes a bad checklist, … with examples from the airline industry to war time, to just your regular daily life. I highly recommend it. Go to audible.com/grey for a free trial in Audible and give “The Checklist Manifesto”a listen. Audible has have over 180,000 things for you to listen to and I listen to audiobooks all the time to improve my life. Why not get started today by going to Audible.com/grey? [music]

100 Comments

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *