On Animal Behaviour

Greater Kashmir

When wild animals are offered food the only thing they want to do is to eat; they even tolerate, and to a certain extent get used to, our presence. The most striking characteristic of wild animals is that they’re exactly that—wild.  Therefore they normally don’t seek contact with people. People have hunted them for years. So they’ve evolved to be wary of humans; those that don’t escape in time are in danger of losing their lives. Whether they’re deer or wild boar, or smaller four-footed targets such as foxes, wolves, or birds, from raptors to geese and ducks or snipe (& even fellow humans) every thousand upon thousands meet their end in a hail of bullets. As the mistrust on their part of anything human is completely understandable, the question arises why in all of the world’s 148 big wild terrestrial herbivores, only 14 passed to be tamed, and end up as domesticates? Do domesticates idolize humans and stay with us of their own will? Or is it fear that perhaps keeps them close?

While the phylogenetic scale is based on an organism’s evolutionary history in everyday life we look at animals in terms of the socio-zoological scale. This is sometimes an arbitrary category system based on the roles animals play in our lives. As dogs and hyenas lie on the same large branch of the phylogenetic scale they’re worlds apart on the socio-zoological scale. Domesticates (tames) are largely prisoners even if they don’t probably think of themselves that way.  Animals are sensitive souls. Once they’re held captive they don’t trust us right away, they’re wary and keep their distance. These animals would run away if only they could. Under ‘Stockholm syndrome’ hostages develop feelings for their kidnappers. It takes a while before the animals start calling out a friendly greeting when they spot us in the distance. Without curiosity of a wolf, submissive nature of a mare,  potential for grasses to develop a non-shattering rachis, plumpness of the Central Asian wild apples, we probably won’t have dogs, horses, wheat and cultivated apples.

Disease/climate-resistant, bison and eland, within Africa (over Eurasian wild stock susceptible to African diseases) didn’t catch on. A whole lot of buffalos and zebras are there in Africa but there isn’t a single African hunter-gatherer tribe that domesticated them and gained sway over other Africans without having to wait for the arrival of Eurasian horses and cattle. While horses were tamed and domesticated, zebras from the same family couldn’t ever be tamed & domesticated. As zebras grow old they rear the nasty habit of biting a person and not letting go. You can’t lasso a zebra with rope; they watch the rope noose fly toward them and then duck their head out of the way. Perhaps it was because the problem was with the two animals and not with the local peoples. Their diet, growth rate, mating habits, problems of captive breeding, nasty disposition, a tendency to panic, and social structure of the species, all mattered why only some animals were tamed and domesticated.

Traditionally animals are shown as slaves of their emotions. It all goes back to the dichotomy of animals-as-wild and humans-as-civilized. The undomesticable animal is undomesticable in its own way. That in other words means they’re wild, which implies being undisciplined, crazy even, without holding back. Domesticable animals are all alike, they’re not wild, but civilized, which refers to exercising the well-mannered restraint that humans are normally capable of, under favorable circumstances. This dichotomy lurks behind almost every debate about what makes us human, so much so that whenever humans behave badly we call them ‘animals’. Animals, whether big or small, were tamed and domesticated to provide food, clothing, warmth, meat, milk products, eggs, feathers, honey, silk, fertilizer, land transportation, fur, leather, military assaults vehicles, plow traction, wool, etc. Domesticates selectively bred in captivity and modified from wild ancestors for (civilized) use by humans who control the animal’s breeding and food supply. Truly domesticates differ with their wild ancestors from the processes like the human-mediated selection of those individual animals more useful to humans than other individuals of the same species, and automatic evolutionary responses of animals to the altered forces of natural selection operating in human environments as compared with wild environments.

Thousands of years of breeding have delayed the socialization phase in dogs, and today it starts when they’re 4 weeks old. Wolf puppies that are raised in the home are tough though they’re exceptionally energetic, and less rule-bound than dog puppies, chewing anything in sight. Wolf puppies look less at human faces than dogs and are more self-reliant, & retain a certain distrust of us. While not all the wolf-puppies’ senses are fully developed at this important time, puppies explore their environment equipped with their full sensory repertoire, and in the final days of this phase of their life, people are part of their environment. Dogs are late-bloomers, and that’s just what they need to be. They must not bond too soon with other pack members, because when it comes down to it, their relationship with a humans will be the most important relationship of their life.

When dogs tackle a problem they can’t solve, they look back at their human companion to get encouragement or assistance. This means, dogs mostly feel at home in our company. Wolves keep trying and trying on their own. Domestication being responsible for the difference in the temperament and relations with us, wolf evolved to fear and the dog was bred to please. The low-esteemed dogs engaging in lots of eye contact with humans, hijacked the human parental pathways in the brain, making us care about them in almost the same way that we care about our children. The bottom line is that the low-esteemed dogs that engage in licking and wagging their tails are similar to us Kashmiris who have a history of blindly relying on/obeying masters/leaders into being ‘Tamed’. The high-esteemed wolves, engaged in watching one another more closely, on the other hand, are like those Afghans that believe in relying on the pack for survival and therefore have a history of living life on their own terms.