• Part Wild

    Posted on February 23rd, 2014 mollyo92 1 comment

    I am extremely intrigued by Part Wild so far. It’s interesting to read about domestication in this way. Up to this point in class, I’ve pictured domestication as some far, distant process that occurred thousands of years ago. I didn’t imagine the struggle and complications that must have been involved with taking wild animals and turning them into domesticated companions. Sure, we’ve mentioned that it was difficult, but I never really imagined it. But Part Wild definitely paints that picture. I understand that Terrill’s journey with Inyo is not the same process that our ancestors endured in order to domesticate wild animals, but it does show some of the struggles that a person would face as they introduced a wild (in this case part wild) animal into human civilization.  At times, I feel a deep sadness for Inyo. It’s clear she just doesn’t belong in a human world. It made me wonder how could ancient humans have pushed and pushed through this struggle for generation after generation in order to domesticate the wolf all those thousands of years ago? Especially without the modern technology like locks and electric fences. On the other hand, perhaps it was easier then, given that human society was not yet so highly developed. Thousands of years ago, newly domesticated dogs wouldn’t have to refrain from howling, tearing up linoleum, or digging up a flowerbed and face a city citation as Inyo had to. I mean, it’s clear how much easier it is for Terrill and Inyo out in the wilderness, far away from other people. It’s definitely a perplexing thought process to try and imagine exactly how domestication took place.

    Aside from my thoughts on dog domestication, I have to admit that I thought about cats very often while reading Part Wild. I know, that probably goes against every intent that ultra dog-lover Ceiridwen Terrill had in mind when she wrote the book, but just like Inyo, I can’t help my nature. I’m a cat person, plain and simple. Don’t get me wrong, I do really like dogs as well, but deep down, I’ll always just be a cat person. Despite my interest in cats, I know about as little about the domestication of cats as I do about the domestication of dogs, which is very, very little. But just based on the reading and personal experience, I think I can see some major differences. At one point, Part Wild enters a discussion about the intelligence of wolves vs dogs. Are wolves smarter because they can more easily fend for themselves, communicate with other dogs, and overall adapt to the wild? Terrill offers a somewhat half hearted rebuttal to the argument by saying that dogs would be considered smarter if we judged them on their ability to fit into human society. Well in my opinion, this is complete rubbish. And I know, it’s only my opinion, but it seems to me that dogs have simply been dumbed down to the point of only existing with permission of humans. Struggling to live independently does not equal smart in my book. It seems that Inyo, even only part wolf, is MUCH smarter than all dogs she encounters. Just look at how she can easily escape any enclosure, find her own food, and avoid dangers such as snake bites and traffic. That, to me, makes her highly intelligent. Now it could just be the biased cat person in me, but in this comparison I believe that cats seem more similar to wolves than dogs. They’re unwillingness to be trained by humans gives them an independence which seems to me to translate to intelligence. For example, my cat, who is now going on two years old, hasn’t been outside since she was a kitten. But I’m almost positive that if I released her into the wild, she could survive. At least for a while. But would say, a Chihuahua, survive? I really don’t think so. Even though she hasn’t been outside for over a year and a half, my cat still can jump 3 feet in the air and grasp a moth between her paws, she still jumps to the top of a 5 foot shelf to try to reach our hamster in its cage almost every day, and she still sits by the window and cackles loudly, wide-eyed, at every passing bird. She seems to have held on to her wild instincts, something that I think many dogs have lost. Terrill constantly discusses the way that dog food brands appeal to the wolf ancestors of the dog, when in reality most domesticated dogs lost that part of them long ago. But why does cat food never appeal to the “wild cat inside your house cat” when it seems to me that the wild side is still much more present than it is in dogs? But I’m no expert, and once again, these are most likely the biased musing of a cat lover.

  • Snakes, Eagles, and Foxes, oh my

    Posted on February 16th, 2014 mollyo92 3 comments

    The best word I have for the readings this week is dynamic. From imagining humans running around, being attacked by various predators swooping in from all directions, to the visual of a snake violently striking a poor, innocent biologist, to the somewhat depressing image of a fox being shot by Soviet researchers, there was certainly a wide range of discussion. I became somewhat more hooked by Wildlife of Our Bodies than I was initially. Dunn certainly has an exciting writing style. I was a little distracted by his “storytelling,” seeing as he wove what was probably a two page story about the tiger being hunted by Jim Corbett throughout approximately 20 pages of reading. It definitely was an interesting story, however I began to get somewhat confused by the points he was trying to make as I was pushed and pulled in and out of this tale. The next portion of the book about the venomous snake theory was presented a little more clearly, though I felt it was somewhat biased. Dunn only includes a very small blurb about how not all scientists agree on Lynne Isbell’s theory. I’m no scientist, but I think even a narrative-style book needs to include slightly more diversification of opinion in order to transmit a believable idea. And once again, Isbell’s entire theory was convoluted by stories of Dunn’s friends being bitten by venomous snakes, and by the somewhat more detailed than necessary example of the blind man, Vermeij. Overall, I was intrigued,  I kind of felt like I was left hanging with some underdeveloped theories that I was actually somewhat interested in.

    Moving on to the topic of foxes, I think I was fairly distracted with the radio show and article by the points that were glazed over. I somehow couldn’t stop thinking about the foxes being killed and their limp, dead carcasses being draped around the neck of some plump, rich Soviet woman. Getting to the science, however, it was a really interesting story. I couldn’t stop looking up images of the wild and domestic foxes. It’s absolutely insane that they look so vastly different. And this happened after only 10 years of experimentation. That seems incredible to me. The image is below, for anyone who hasn’t seen them yet.

    foxes

    But beyond the actual experiment, I picked up on something in the National Geographic article that I think we will inevitably discuss based on our past discussions. The article states, “At the beginning of the domestication process, only natural selection was at work,” as Trut puts it. “Down the road, this natural selection was replaced with artificial selection.” This is really a big point of contention. Can it be called “artificial selection” just because humans are doing the selecting? Furthermore, the radio show discussed the way in which humans have domesticated themselves, and they made this seem like an artificial process in which humans were unnaturally (I know we don’t like that word, but it works here) changing the course of evolution. The evolutionary history article discusses the many ways that humans have altered evolution of multiple species, but the question about these thoughts is can we call this process “artificial” or, because humans are just as organic as every other living thing on this planet, can our alterations of evolution still fall under the category of “natural selection?” This is definitely a lingering question.

    And in conclusion, I may be the only one who was horrified to learn that eagles were such violent enemies of humans, and I was further traumatized by the idea of a beautiful, majestic eagle diving down and swiping up a human child. For anyone who had trouble picturing this image, check out this horrifying eagle attack. Although it’s fake, it still provides a good image of the threat our ancestors faced daily.

  • Finally understanding domestication

    Posted on February 9th, 2014 mollyo92 4 comments

    I’m really glad we read Animals as Domesticates by Clutton-Brock this week. It seems we’re finally getting in to really discussing domestication and I’m starting to grasp the process. Unlike Bulliet, Clutton-Brock began her book with a basic background of domestication. In class it kept being mentioned that dogs were the first domesticated animals. This is something that seemed obvious to everyone but me, given that I really know nothing about domesticated animals. But this fact started to really make sense with this week’s readings. Strangely, the Bulliet book seemed to begin to discuss the actual process of domestication more this week than the introduction did. It’s confusing to me that Bulliet chose to begin his book with a lot of confusing, and dare I say nonsense, about the postdomestic era and an obsession with blood and sex, and then finally in the middle of the book he begins explaining the process of domestication. As someone with zero prior knowledge on the subject, I would have appreciated this discussion a lot earlier. His points in the beginning would probably have made a lot more sense as well.

    But moving away from Bulliet and back to Clutton-Brock, I’m also glad she is picking up on the question of whether humans are natural or artificial. This is something I’m very interested in exploring during the course, and it’s starting to come together. As I begin to read some of the theories of domestication, I can’t help but think of domestication as being similar to co-evolution. I’m definitely no scientist, but it seems to me that the way in which humans have changed the evolution of certain species, has also changed the evolution humans. We have changed our eating habits, hunting habits, we don’t need to run as fast, or work as hard because we have certain animals to assist us. Although people may call human activity, including domestication of animals “artificial,” it appears to me at this point to be very natural. Perhaps the development of certain animals species was also supposed to be affected by humans, just as some species of parasites and hosts have co-evolved and affected each other. I’ll end my rambling thoughts here, in the hopes that this is something we can further talk over in class, and perhaps someone with a lot more scientific knowledge than I have can offer me some clarity. I lastly wanted to share an article I came across the other day. I know in Clutton-Brock, it’s somewhat a question as to where and when dogs were first domesticated, and this article brings some new evidence to light. Given the class interest in dog domestication, it may be a good article to look over.

     

  • Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers

    Posted on February 2nd, 2014 mollyo92 3 comments

    I have to admit that I was somewhat surprised as I began to read this week’s reading. I didn’t expect the topic of the book to be “blood and sex,” as it’s so often mentioned throughout the several beginning chapters. I was honestly a little taken aback as the book just jumped right in and began to discuss bestiality and it’s prevalence in previous centuries. For starters, I had no idea that it was such a normal thing in the past, and to continue, I didn’t exactly understand what the subject had to do with domestication. It seemed to me that bestiality would be more like a setback in the history of animal domestication; kind of like a mistake in the process of forging a successful, positive relationship between animals and humans. Despite my initial hesitation, I quickly began to understand the importance of the subject of “blood and sex.” It seems that it’s actually very important to understand the relationship humans have had with animals on a sexual level and also in how our view of animal slaughter has changed. As the readings progressed, I began to see the increased complications of animal/human relationships. Not only have sexual relationships towards animals developed over time, but as have our moral and religious connections to animals. As I have thought about domestication previously, I kind of imagined domestication occurring at one point and history, and after that point the relationship between humans and animals has been static and unchanging. This book has made me begin to understand that the development of the animal/human relationship takes place on so many levels, and furthermore how that relationship has been changing almost constantly with the development of society.

    Although I was able to overcome my initial hesitation with the book as it started off discussing “blood and sex,” I still wasn’t entirely convinced by all of Bulliet’s points. I believe Bulliet did a good job of making the reader aware of a change in animal/human relationships developing with the changes of society, but I think there wasn’t enough exploration into those changes. I mainly got this impression from the portion on elective vegetarianism. Personally, I do not eat red meat, and I tend to avoid most meats overall, and as I read this portion of the book I began to feel somewhat ashamed. It was as if Bulliet’s message was for people to suck it up and eat meat like humans used to and are supposed to. However, Bulliet ignores the fact that our society has drastically changed from the domestic era in which most people saw many animals slaughtered during their childhood. And apparently unlike Bulliet, I don’t really feel that this is such a negative change. For example, Bulliet mentions the way that meat gives people more energy than only vegetation can. This point was brought up as if it was a case for why people are making a mistake in shying away from meat, however Bulliet never mentions that most people no longer work on farms and exert as much energy as they used to. Therefore, it seems that eating foods that give less energy really isn’t such a big deal. Unlike Bulliet, I really think that the change in the eating habits of society that have arisen from the drastic change in the activities and lifestyles of many societies overall is not a bad thing. Obviously, these thoughts are mostly focused on American society, given that many countries around the world are still primarily farming societies. But in general, I didn’t have the same negative impression of the shift towards vegetarianism. I may have interpreted this section incorrectly, and I probably simply felt this way because I felt guilty while reading this portion of the book, but I do know for sure that Bulliet was attempting to place a negative connotation on vegetarianism, which I do not agree with. The book so far has been eye-opening, but I’m not yet fully convinced by Bulliet.