Over the centuries, humans have developed special relationships with various other species of animals. One such association is the mutually beneficial relationship we enjoy with our pets.
The domestication of animals
Besides fruits, vegetables, and grains, an important part of the human diet is the meat of other animals. Other foods we get from animals include eggs, milk, and honey, in addition, humans use animals for clothing materials like leather, silk, and wool. To make these products easier to get, people began to domesticate, or tame, certain animals at least 10,000 years ago.
Today, some domesticated animals provide food. Others provide labor the water buffalo that plows an Asian rice field, for example, or the camel that carries people and goods across an African desert. Soon after they were domesticated, cats and dogs became important because they provided services for humans. Cats were tamed and kept in households to kill mice and rats. Dogs were used to help in the hunt and to protect people by warning them of approaching danger. Eventually, both species became not only domesticated animals but pets animals kept more for emotional than economic reasons.
Humans and their pets
Dogs and cats have been kept as pets in all parts of the world for thousands of years. Fish and birds, such as parakeets and canaries, are also popular pets. Certain animals are considered pets in some parts of the world and not in others. People in Malaysia, for example, enjoy mongooses as pets. People in China make pets of cormorants.
Problems can arise when a person tries to keep a wild animal as a pet. A lion cub may be as emotionally appealing as a kitten, but the cub will grow up to be a full-sized lion, and it will never be anything but a wild animal. It may resort to instinctive aggressive behavior, such as clawing and biting, whenever such behavior would be appropriate in the wild. Its owners and other humans, especially young children, are then endangered. For this reason alone, many cities and towns have laws against keeping wild and exotic animals as pets in homes.
When the owners of such wild animals realize the mistake they have made or simply change their mind about owning the animal they find that zoos and animal shelters will generally refuse to accept their pet. The unfortunate animal may end up on a “canned hunt” ranch, where persons pay thousands of dollars to hunt them.
Other wild animals pose different problems as pets. Many species of birds, for example, outlive their owners. Parrots may live for 70 years. And every wild animal must be taken forcibly from the wild. Of the estimated 2 to 5 million birds taken from the wild each year, as many as 60 per cent may die while being trans-ported.
Some owners of exotic pets are part of a U.S. government-sponsored program to protect endangered species by breeding the animals in captivity. These animals were not born in the wild, however. They were bred by individuals or organizations who are registered with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Captive-Bred Wildlife Registration program, established in 1979. The breeders hope to preserve these endangered species in case they become extinct in the wild. In some cases, the species may eventually be “reintroduced” released into the wild.