All posts by corim14

Ratting Around

As a general rule, I don’t like rats. With a few exceptions, most people I know are of the same opinion. I appreciate what they’ve done for science, and they can be cute sometimes, but like most of humanity, I don’t think I will ever get past my negative conception of them. The readings this week (particularly Burt) made me question the roots of my disdain for these creatures, something I’ve never thought about before. For me, I’m sure its mostly a product of societal views projected via literature, film, and language, but how did society come to have those views in the first place? I liked that Burt went into the many reasons mankind started demonizing Rattus sp., but I think he missed something. Sure, they carry disease and live in the shadows and are usually surrounded by sewage and death and destruction, but I think there’s a more basic root of our dislike for rats, and those factors just intensified it. I think it comes down to biology (I am a biologist, so big surprise there). We are genetically programmed to be more attracted to species that are more similar to us- and rats may not be that different, but they’re different enough. They have a long pointed snout; we have a flat face. They have small eyes; we prefer large ones. They have a long tail, sharp teeth, are nocturnal, the list goes on. There is a similar distaste among people for animals with similar habits and feature- the mongoose, for example, or the ferret. However, although hamsters and gerbils (even mice) are pretty closely related to rats, the instinctual aversion isn’t there. What’s different about these animals? Their features are a bit more similar to ours, so they’re cute. So we excuse other behaviors which may not otherwise endear them to us, and focus on their evil twin, the rat.

Burt seems to think that we should give rats a chance. In Radar’s writings, Little also believes they should be viewed more positively for the good they are doing mankind (by the way, it seems crazy to me that at one point in time scholars of medicine and genetics refused to acknowledge the interrelatedness of their work, considering how integrated it is today…that’s really another story though). But is the demonization of rats in general necessarily a bad thing? For one thing, it has had health benefits. We tend to avoid rats or drive them away, and so reduce our exposure (and the exposure of our pets and food animals) to the disease-carrying arthropods they ferry around. Our distaste for them has encouraged us to put more effort into their extermination (there was a whole profession and breed of dog created specifically for that purpose), which may have helped make sure the population is controlled and not about to explode. Forget about robots and zombies, we’re more likely to be overrun by rodents if we don’t keep their numbers down. But I think the most important consequence of our society’s demonization of rats is that we don’t really care about their rights- at least, not nearly as much as we care about other animals which are considerably cuter or more human-like- so we can use them in countless aspects of medical and psychological research without dealing with an ethical dilemma. Rats and mice aren’t nearly as protected as other lab animals, and as Radar and Shapiro point out, their use in experimental procedures has been behind huge breakthroughs which have led to an infinitely better understanding of the human body, mind, and disease. Where would we be today without the use of lab rats? I believe that turning the rat into a friendlier face would diminish their historical efficacy as a useful and convenient research tool- as Shapiro says,

“Arluke indicated that the lab animal becomes ‘pet’ when the ‘process that transforms the animal into object is not fully effective’” (Shapiro, p. 457)

I’m not trying to advocate prejudice, but there are a lot of good reasons why we might want to keep rats in a more negative light, even if it may not seem fair to their cute little faces. When speaking of the similarities of man and rat, Burt quotes:

“…Neither of them is of the slightest earthly use to any other species of living things.” (Burt, p. 13)

We’ve changed that for rats- they’re incredibly important to us. Would that still be true if we had viewed them as animals with equal rights to dogs and cats? I’m not sure it would, and personally I’m ok with less rights for rats if it could mean curing cancer.

Wascally Wabbits

Although I enjoyed both Brantz and Darwin, I’d like to focus more on Brantz’s topics of analysis in my blog post, as it’s a more unfamiliar field to me. That being said, Darwin’s work and the depth of his study has always intrigued me. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to study different varieties of honey bee, and yet he sounds almost disappointed that he can’t do more to artificially control their breeding! He couldn’t have known the near-impossibility of obtaining any usable data from an experiment like this anyway, considering the way bees reproduce, but I wonder what we would have discovered sooner about genetics if he had found a way to do it?

Anyway, on to Brantz. Other than his comment about the dog days of summer (I’m pretty sure they’re named after the prominence of the Dog Star during those particular weeks of summer, not brutality to stray dogs, but correct me if I’m wrong), I liked his analysis. I thought it was similar to the very first reading we did on post-domestication relationships between humans and domestic animals. The part that most fascinated me, however, was the acclimatization section.

While under most circumstances I would consider the ability to acclimate and adapt to new situations as a good thing, in reading Brantz’s chapter on domestication I saw nothing but the downsides to the whole process. Brantz briefly mentions the failings of acclimatization, but I don’t think the spin he puts on this really makes the reader aware of the devastating effects acclimatization and domestication of foreign animals had. In class we’ve discussed how some animals are better for domestication than others simply due to genetic predisposition, however the major problem with acclimatization wasn’t that some animals just can’t be domesticated, it was that you can’t displace hundreds of animals to a completely new climate and expect everything to be ok, either for them or for the people already living there.

Brantz does mention the “rabbit plague” of Australia, but here’s a little more background on the story for those of you who may not be familiar with it: Some guy in England moved to Australia and decided he wanted to continue rabbit-hunting there, only Australia didn’t have any native rabbits. I don’t know much about him, but I’m guessing he looked like this:

So he shipped less than 20 over from Europe to fuel his hobby, thinking it couldn’t possibly do any harm. The rabbits bred like, well, rabbits, and the population exploded and covered the entire country, devastating the ecosystem. I’m surprised a horror movie hasn’t been made of out the story. The government tried increasingly drastic methods to exterminate the rabbits, eventually hitting on one that worked in the latter half of the 20th century, more than 100 years after they had been introduced. The method was basically biological warfare on the rabbits- a virus called myxoma was introduced to the population. Other biological control methods had been tried before, but myxoma was the first to actually work- it reduced the population to less than 20% of what it had been. However, the effects didn’t last. The remaining resistant rabbits bred, and the population grew again. Finally, a different virus was found that worked in the 1990s. (Funnily enough, it escaped by accident from a research facility where they were testing its efficacy, but it still worked.)

All this mess because some guy wanted to hunt rabbits. The many reasons anyone could possible have for acclimatization and domestication of foreign animals are far outweighed by the risks involved. We’ve only mentioned ecological damage, which is bad enough, but there are health risks too. Rabbits are reservoirs for diseases that not only affect them, but other animals and people as well. I don’t even need to mention the risk that wild rats and birds pose. It’s fascinating to me how these downsides did nothing to stop the fad of acclimatization and bringing over of foreign animals to “civilized” countries- all for a bit of entertainment and (probably mostly) profit. I can’t imagine how many new diseases were brought over as well.

This has been a pretty one-sided blog post, so I welcome any differences of opinion- it wasn’t intended to be a rant about the folly of invasive species ecology. Pretty much all of my opinions are probably skewed just because of my current studies, but I mention them because I wish Brantz had spent a little more time on that aspect of the acclimatization movement and its impact.

Reindeers are Better Than People?

In the film Frozen, ice-hauler Kristoff is best friends with his pet reindeer Sven, and prefers the company of Sven to any human. He even sings a little song:

Reindeers are better than people/Sven, don’t you think that’s true?

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Kristoff and Sven while reading Piers Vitebsky’s account of the Eveny nomads in The Reindeer People. While it doesn’t seem like most reindeer usually embody the dog-like relationship with their owners that Sven does, the level of interaction and codependency between the reindeer and nomadic tribes of Russia was amazing. I’ve never been one for history, but I couldn’t believe the richness of the history surrounding the domestication of the reindeer. Domesticating this animal made it usable in so many ways that I wonder why it never really caught on in North America. They are almost the perfect animal for domestication: they’re meat, but can also be used as beasts of burden and transportation. I’d always been taught in my biology classes that the only difference between reindeer and caribou (taxonomically speaking) was that reindeer were the domesticated version and caribou were the wild version of the same species; however Vitebsky presents them as being divided almost by where they live (caribou in Canada, reindeer in Russia- maybe it was just the alliteration?). In any case, they are the same animal, so theoretically they would provide the same advantages to Northern American natives that they did to the nomadic tribes of Russia. Vitebsky even states that the migration of reindeer into North America from Russia was likely due to their close relationship with migrating people, so why didn’t that relationship stick in the same way it has in Russia for thousands of years?

Another part of The Reindeer People that really struck me was the parallel between the happenings of Soviet politics and the process of reindeer domestication. The chapter “Civilizing the Nomads” really brings the metaphor into light- the “more civilized” people of the Soviet Union were domesticating the nomadic people in the same way we domesticate animals, and eventually made it impossible for them to live completely independently, as they had for generations. They took their sons and daughters under the promise of giving them a better education, and while they may have done so, they also turned them into the equivalent of the reindeer decoys; this better educated generation was their way to spread their politics and control back to the previously “wild” people of the north. It was much easier in this way to ensure that they soon became dependent (on some level) on higher civilization. I’m not saying that the reindeer people will start carrying around iPhones, however the Soviet interference forced them to begin to need the biplanes, helicopters, and hospitals that they provided.

It is admirable, however, that the reindeer people have maintained as similar a lifestyle to their ancestors as possible in this day and age, and have passed down their language and religion so successfully through the centuries. It reminds me a bit of the Amish in the US- while they occasionally use conveniences such as hospitals, they have pretty much lived the same way for hundreds of years, and have kept their beliefs strong all this time.

I’ve gotten a little off the topic of domestication, but I guess that reindeer have become such an integral part of Eveny history that it wouldn’t be possible for them to live the way they do today without them, even with modern society imposing itself on them more and more. I’m not sure if I agree with Kristoff entirely (I’m more inclined to agree with the second verse of his song, “/people smell better than reindeers/”), however The Reindeer People was definitely a great example of how the lives of humans and a domesticated species can become so intertwined that they are close to indistinguishable, and being a part of that culture would be really fascinating.

Image Source:


Overcoming My Ignorance of Goats

I’d like to apologize to goats everywhere. While I never thought of goats as the devil incarnate, I’d also never found them particularly appealing, let alone “elegant,” in any sense of the word. If I ever envisioned myself owning livestock, goats were definitely not in the picture. That is, until I read Goat Song. My opinion isn’t easily changed, but I have to be honest, after reading about Brad’s life out in Vermont with his goat-children, it’s not so hard to picture myself doing the same thing (in the distant, distant future). The point is, it was a great read- my favorite out of the readings we’ve done so far. Besides the phenomenal writing style, it was entertaining. The storyline held my attention, and the tidbits of facts, history, and biology inserted among Kessler’s anecdotes didn’t dry it out or ruin the romantic nature of the book.

I think what helped make Goat Song such an enjoyable read for me was the focus on cheese-making. I’ve always loved the idea of making as much of my food from scratch as possible, and while I’ve only made cheese once or twice, I’d like to get back into it. There are so many benefits to homemade/grown food- it’s healthier, cheaper, more sustainable. And way better tasting! As a college student having my own vegetable garden is pretty much out of the question (not that I’m really one for gardening anyway), so the closest I’ve come in recent years is making homemade pesto from basil I grew myself and baking my own bread; but I’ve never really been able to make a lifestyle out of it the way Kessler did. Reading Goat Song definitely inspired me to start thinking about getting some cheesecloths and microbes.

I was also fascinated by the complex behavior the goats displayed. I’d always assumed they were similar to sheep, just more intelligent, however they’re clearly completely different. They actually seemed closer to dogs or horses in their behavior to each other and their owners. In fact, in a 2005 study, goats were found to respond to certain social situations in ways only before seen in domestic dogs and primates (the study was led by Juliane Kaminski and a link to the abstract can be found here). I wonder if this is a product of domestication, or a natural inclination found in the wild version of the species as well? Kaminski seems to think it a “side-effect” of the domestication of goats over centuries and centuries. I’m inclined to agree, but how interesting that these behaviors (such as following gaze direction) haven’t surfaced in other livestock? It speaks to the high level of intelligence and social behavior programmed into the DNA of goats- something I’ve never thought about before. When Kessler wrote about his wife bonding with their goat as she struggled to overcome her infection, he described a bond I never thought possible between humans and dairy animals.

I’m not saying I’m going to move to a farmhouse and start raising my own herd of Nubians anytime soon. As inexperienced as Kessler makes himself out to be before starting his goat and cheese adventure, he did have certain advantages that I don’t. However, it was refreshing to read a book like Goat Song, written so well and with such passion that it changed my opened my eyes to an entire species, and got me thinking that one day owning a couple goats might be pretty cool.

Discussion Points 3/04/14

Here are the topics for discussion we came up with:


Would domestication be considered a mental defect in the animals as their brains reduce in size compared to their wild counterparts?. Are there examples of increased brain size? What about “smart” dog breeds?

If so, what makes something a mental defect? After all, in their new environments domesticated animals are much better adapted than their wild counterparts.

If domestication truly follows the pathways Zeder described, would it be theoretically possible to domesticate any animal via one or more of those pathways? Obviously some animals would be easier to domesticate than others, but in theory what would make an animal truly impossible to domesticate?


What evidence do we see in the modern world of the way the diet and utilization of agriculture influenced our genetic makeup and evolution over the years? Agriculture has obviously changed since its invention thousands of years ago, what staples have stuck with us and why? In such a rapidly changing society, the needs of which are so vastly different than those of the ancient world, should we change our approach to the basic foods we farm and eat?

What do you think about the theories Dunn presents on how we evolved to be able to process milk? Today people who are lactose intolerant don’t suffer physically because of it (they can be just as healthy or unhealthy, fit or obese, as lactose-tolerant people), so what does this mean evolutionarily speaking?

Do you think gene therapy is a viable weight-loss option for the future? What about popular restrictive diets?

See you in class,

Corinne and Kelly


Musings on Mutualism and Milk

I liked the straightforward information about the different pathways to domestication in Zeder’s article. Her diagrams about reduction in brain size were really interesting to see laid out side by side, however I’m taking them with a grain of salt because I’m not quite certain how reliable such comparisons are. How was the data obtained to determine the relative brain size in ancestral species? For example, the dog’s “ancestral species” is now extinct; we don’t even have enough genetic data to figure out what it looked like, let alone how big it’s brain size is. And how far back is considered “ancestral”? There are certain ancient species that stand out to us when looking at the evolution of, say, the horse; but which of these are we considering it’s ancestor? Perhaps these are a bit too in-depth and specific for the point Zeder was trying to make, but I think they are valid points to consider none-the-less. I wonder what the graph would look like if she included the brain size of the wild (not just feral) “counterparts” of modern domesticates- wolves, wild pigs, wild ferrets, etc- to their common ancestor. Have their brain sizes decreased as well (though not to the same extent)? Or have they stayed the same- or even increased (as unlikely as that is)?

Overall though, I really enjoyed the article. It helped me make sense of a lot of the thoughts swirling around in my head about how different animals came to be domesticated in different ways.

On to Dunn: My inner skeptic definitely came more into play while reading The Wild Life of Our Bodies this week, especially in chapter seven. I may just be too stubborn, but there is still a part of me that finds it very difficult to believe Binford’s theory, with all its “perhaps’” and “maybes” and “could have beens.” I don’t think the discovery of the milk-digesting gene supports the theory as much as Dunn seems to, and I don’t quite understand why Binford’s theory depends so much on crops that the majority of early people could not have processed. Why would they have farmed such crops in the first place? Maybe I missed something, but I find it a little hard to swallow (haha).

Our history of milk-drinking is equally as astonishing to me, however I’m not as dubious of Tishkoff’s conclusions. What amazes me the most is that milk drinking even became an option for early people. Aside from wishing I could meet the first person who had the crazy idea to go tug on another animal’s teat and drink the stuff that came out (although I think our conversation would be pretty limited), I’d like to know why they kept doing it, even after the milk make pretty much everybody sick except those few mutant people we can attribute our ability to produce lactase.

Dunn’s discussion of the genetics behind digestive enzymes like lactase and amylase led me to another thought: will gene therapy become an common option for dieting and weight loss? It currently exists, but not in a widely accessible form. But with the rising obesity problems and huge market for a lazy way to lose weight, once the cost is brought down it could become as common as craze diets.

Topics for Discussion: 2/25/14

How did Part Wild change any previous conceptions we might have had regarding the domestication of the wolf/dog ancestor? What are the prevalent theories regarding this evolution?

What are the real differences between tame, trained, domesticated, and wild? How do we apply these rules when comparing the behaviors of wolf-dogs vs. dogs vs. cats?

What are the legal/ethical issues surrounding wolf-dogs, regarding their acceptance and breeding? How should society handle them?

Are dogs really “retarded versions of wolves”?

Is an emotional connection between a wolf-dog and a human possible?

-Corinne & Molly


Wolves, Dogs and In-betweeners

I’ll start off by saying I really enjoyed reading Terrill’s Part Wild, even if I didn’t agree with her life choices at times. I have had a lifelong fascination with wolf-dogs, so reading about Inyo and her life was entertaining. The book didn’t necessarily stimulate any new thoughts or questions about the relationship between wolves and dogs and how dogs came to be domesticated, but it did reinforce some theories I’d already had.

I liked that Terrill kept coming back to looking at the process of domestication of the dog from all different aspects: behavioral, morphological, and genetic. To me, wolf and dog are the same species, but I feel like a wolf is more like a breed of dog (albeit a very estranged breed) than an ancestral link in the chain. While we were domesticating dogs in all shapes and sizes, wolves were undergoing their own changes as a species, and most of these changes were probably the exact opposite of what we bred into the domestic dog: distrust of humans, tendency to avoid human civilization, and looking at us as predators more than providers. This brings me back to something I’ve been wondering since talking about Belyaev’s foxes: the researchers bred the foxes into two distinct groups- domestic, and aggressive. Could this be what happened to the common ancestor of dogs and wolves? Those with the slightly higher tendency to be curious about their neighbors the humans, who didn’t mind their company, and who could develop a bond with them would be those whose descendents became the domestic dog. On the other hand, the tendency to avoid human society and distrust what could be perceived as threat was exacerbated in the strain which became modern-day wolves. I see their common ancestor as on more of a middle-ground behaviorally, with wolves and dogs at the two polar extremes, due to inbreeding and selection (natural or artificial).

One thing that does irk me is that people have a tendency to refer to all domestic dogs in a general sense, as one entity whose behavior is constant between individuals. Dogs are more complex than that. Different breeds show different behavioral traits- how could a Chihuahua possibly show the same behavioral tendencies as a St. Bernard? But even deeper than on a breed level, different individual dogs have different personalities. They aren’t as complex as human personalities, to be sure, but anyone who has owned dogs, who has watched them interact and watched other dogs can tell you that they exist. Dogs have personal preferences, distastes, and habits which start developing as soon as they’re born. From research papers I’ve read on behavioral analysis in wolves, it appears they have something akin to personalities as well, however the research is not generalizable enough to be sure. Given the circumstances, we can’t expect wolves to have as much individual differences- it wouldn’t be a good survival mechanism for pack animals.

Discussion of personality is a good segue into what really interests me when discussing wolves and dogs: intelligence. Terrill believes that dogs are the mentally retarded cousins of wolves, bred only to be blindly obedient and want only affection and care. After her experience with Panzer, I can understand her point of view. After all, who should we consider more intelligent, the wolf-dog who avoided the cars, or the dog who got hit and was killed? But I disagree with her train of thought. After all, dogs ride the subway in Russia ( with no problems. So which is really the more intelligent- dogs or wolves? I guess the truth is that it doesn’t really matter. In the human world, dogs will come out on top; in the wild, a wolf is definitely more able to survive. Knowing this makes it all the more heart-wrenching when reading about Inyo, who doesn’t belong in either place. It supports the belief that the practice of purposefully breeding wolf-dogs should be put to a stop. It will not fix the issues that have cropped up in modern dogs, as Leda believes; only give rise to a breed who can’t survive in either world.

The Old Nature vs Nurture

There were so many different topics to write about this week, but I think the most interesting is something we’ve touched on before: the extent of co-evolution between man and domestic animals. How have we shaped each other, as separate species? It’s clear from experiments like Belyaev’s that domestication goes beyond simple taming and docility, that the genetic makeup of these animals is actually being changed. Rob Dunn mentions in his book The Wild Life of Our Bodies that we have bred many of our domesticated animals to have significantly reduced tendencies to feel fear. My question is, is all of this really genetics? In neither Dunn’s book nor reports on Belyaev’s foxes does there seem to be a mention of a more psychological explanation.

Dunn mentions that, “Cows and lambs are not just meek. They are actually numbed to the dangers that once haunted them, too tame to flee even when the wolf is at the door.” Belyaev’s foxes were selectively bred for “domestic” qualities, and each subsequent generation seemed to produce more and more dog-like foxes. I’m not arguing the truth of this, just the mechanism of the phenomenon. Mammals are particularly sensitive to human emotion- as the common saying goes, “they can smell fear.” Well, they can smell a lot more than that. Every animal trainer learns that the secret to success in forming a bond with an animal is that you have to be calm. If you are trusting and gentle, the animal will perceive you as such. This works especially well when you give the animal this impression of yourself at a young age- or when it is taught to them by their mothers and other “role models.” This is my theory: cows and lambs are meek not because they have been bred to have a repressed fight-or-flight response, but because they have been raised repeatedly in a world where this type of defensive behaviour is unecessary. They don’t need to be able to protect themselves; humans do it for them, to protect their investment in the animal. For herd animals like cows, sheep, and horses, humans serve as the dominant leader, the one in charge of protecting and defending the rest. In pack animals like dogs, we are viewed as members of the pack, and as long as they feel protected by their owners they will feel it is their duty to be protective of us as well. The integration of the lives of domestic animals with our own over the centuries, our protection of them (for whatever reason), has meant that from an early age they are used to us. They can read us emotionally (some better than others), and this I think lends itself to their docility and other domestic qualities more than anything else.

More evidence that this psychological explanation might have some credence? What about feral animals? By all standards, animals like cats, dogs, and horses have been completely domesticated. If genetics were the only things at work here, that means feral animals, who have had no interaction with humans during their formative years, would not act wild. But they do. Sure, feral cats and dogs may live in populated areas, and have no problem with human life–they may even rely on it to survive. But attempt to interact with them as you would a domestic animal, and you’ll quickly find their adrenal systems have not been dulled. Compare a wolf and a dog that has been feral all its life- they respond the same way.

We may have influenced the genetic evolution of our domesticated animals to make them rely on us, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say that our selective breeding has changed their inherent instincts and behaviour. We learn these when we are young; animals are the same way.

Until we code the genomes for all domestic animals (and their wild counterparts, should they exist), we’ll never know for sure the extent that our selective breeding has influenced their genetic makeup. Here’s one more story to make us think about the huge impact of psychology on the domestication of animals: Christian the lion. Follow the link here to watch a short video about Christian:


Bulliet’s Hamburgers: Still Tough to Chew

After my post last week regarding my distaste for the first four chapters of Bulliet’s Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers, it may surprise you (as it surprised me) to learn that I found the next few chapters much more interesting and accessible. It probably helped that he finally started mentioning animals that were not domesticated for farming, such as DOGS (admittedly a bit of a sore spot for me). I also was surprised to read his critique of our old friend Jared Diamond’s take on the history of domestication, and to find that I agreed with Bulliet’s opinion of it- interesting, but too flawed to really be persuasive. As I have no prior knowledge of the domestication of rats, I found the passage on Dr. H. D. King’s experiment intriguing. I wonder if it would be possible to conduct similar experiments with other wild animals which we have domesticated over the years? It would of course be impractical and an expensive procedure to conduct, especially given the amount of time it would take before any publishable results were made, but wouldn’t it be interesting to watch a wild population turn domestic before our very eyes? I can’t help but wonder how enlightening it would be to try and replicate the process of turning wolves into dogs, if the wolf population were not as threatened as it is today. I wonder if it would be similar to that of Dimitry Belyaev’s research on the fox population he studied.

Despite my new gradual acceptance of Bulliet’s writings and theories, I still have my complaints. I wish that Bulliet had spent more time on the “secondary uses” of animals, since I find domestication in animals used for more than just food to be the most intriguing. I’d never thought about it before, but why did humans start drinking milk from other species? Who first came up with the idea of simply shearing a sheep, instead of skinning it, to use its wool? Bulliet places a lot of the blame on religion, but skeptic that I am I’m not so willing to believe that that is the case. Perhaps, as Tim Ingold suggests in Chapter 4 of his book Perceptions of the Environment, it came about due to an unwillingness to waste possible resources. It only takes the ingenuity of one person to try something new, so it’s not surprising that secondary uses of domestic animals arose. Seeing the accomplishments of those who came before us makes me wonder if those who live in our time are still just as resourceful. I believe they are, however, significantly less egalitarian. We are not so willing to share everything we have with everyone in our community. So what does this mean in terms of sharing knowledge and creativity? Is society progressing at a slower rate than it might if the world were more egalitarian?

I found it interesting that both Bulliet and Ingold mentioned society’s perception of other human cultures considered “less” than human. It highlights the importance we assign advanced culture in distinguishing ourselves from animals. Can it be said that any animals have culture? Recent research suggests that chimpanzees, in fact, to exhibit behavioral patterns akin to basic culture among separate populations. If we delved into the behaviors of other animals with higher degrees of intelligence than most (for example, dolphins), would we find primitive cultural behavior there as well?

Once last thought inspired by Bulliet’s writing. Are our domestic animals fundamentally more or less intelligent than their wild counterparts? One would think that a tendency to trust rather than run away would be indicative of an animal which may not survive long. We do slaughter most of our domestic animals- perhaps it’s not as obvious as when our ancestors would hunt them down with bows and spears, but the end game is the same. Yet we often consider our domestic animals to be of higher intelligence. One of my favorite comparisons between wolf and dog: when you point at something, a dog will look where you’ve pointed, however a wolf will continue to look at you. Is this an inbred tendency to trust and understand? We are able to train our animals to do amazing things, lauding their intelligence in their ability to learn new tricks, but is this really intelligence? Or does “train-ability” indicate a lesser inherent concern for safety and survival?