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The Intertwining Lives of Animals and Humans Throughout History

by Roger A. Caras

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-684-81100-6
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 An informative, insightful, though also rather dry history of animal domestication through the ages, by ASPCA president Caras, author of numerous fine works on pets and wildlife (The Cats of Thistle Hill, 1994, etc.). As Caras defines it, domestication is ``the shaping of a species by man, using selective breeding to replace natural selection.'' In studiously reviewing the origins and probable methods of domestication, as well as the ancestry of all manner of animals, from goats and horses in the Stone Age to camels and elephants around 4000 b.c., to ferrets and cats in more recent years, Caras explains how ``animals have played a vital role in man's evolutionary course.'' For example, having a ready supply of goats at hand allowed humans to travel in desert and mountain areas for the first time, and also enabled the once-nomadic human race ``to feed ever-growing concentrations of people, allowing towns and later cities to grow.'' And the Industrial Revolution was spawned at least in part, says Caras, by the huge flocks of sheep that grazed in Europe at the beginning of the 18th century, providing both wealth and wool to fuel the change. Along the way, though, there have been numerous downsides to domestication. The very goat that ``led man out of the darkness of the cave . . . has today, by the billions, stripped the vegetation off the land and changed the face of continents.'' And feral animals--domesticated species that have wound up back in the wild--have wreaked havoc on wildlife in many areas of the world. Throughout, Caras is steadfast in repeating a specific moral message: that domesticated animals are generally treated cruelly though they give us much, and that we need to be more caring and compassionate toward them. A conglomeration of fact, lore, and speculation, of primary interest to the natural history buff rather than the usual Caras followers.