Zebra vs Horses: Animal Domestication

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Feb 29, 2016


Zebra vs Horses: Animal Domestication
Zebra vs Horses: Animal Domestication thumb Zebra vs Horses: Animal Domestication thumb Zebra vs Horses: Animal Domestication thumb


  • 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]
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  • [music]

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Why didn't Africans on Zebra conquer the world? Why don't we have war bears?

Part 1: /watch?v=JEYh5WACqEk

Website: http://www.cgpgrey.com/

War Bears image by: Filip Dudek http://5ofnovember.deviantart.com/gal...

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