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Camels: 3000-1500 BC
As beasts of burden and transport, camels occupy an important place alongside horses and donkeys. Two small members of the camel family, the llama and the alpaca of south America, are domesticated first - probably before 3000 BC. At that time both species appear to have been on the verge of extinction. Domestication by the American Indians saves them. Neither the llama nor the alpaca exists now in the wild.
The larger of the two, the llama, is primarily a beast of burden, while the shaggy alpaca is valuable for its wool. Neither animal is strong enough to pull a plough or drag a cart - two important steps in the story of civilization which are denied to the early Americans.
In the parched regions of north Africa and Asia two different species of camel become the most important beasts of burden - the single-humped Arabian camel (in north Africa, the Middle East, India) and the double-humped Bactrian camel (central Asia, Mongolia). Both are well adapted to desert conditions. They can derive water, when none is available elsewhere, from the fat stored in their humps.
It is probable that they are first domesticated in Arabia some time after 1500 BC. By about 1000 BC caravans of camels are bringing precious goods up the west coast of Arabia, linking India with the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia.
Poultry and pigeons: 2000 BC
The red jungle fowl, a member of the pheasant family, lives in the forests and bamboo jungles of India and southeast Asia. The male makes an impressive crowing sound and is dignified by a comb on his head and wattles under his beak. Jungle fowl of this kind are captured and kept for their eggs and their flesh by about 2000 BC in Asia. It is thought that all domestic poultry in the world today are descended from this one species.
At much the same period, in Egypt, pigeons are first persuaded to live and breed in the proximity of humans - again as a reliable source of protein. But some 3000 years later it is discovered that they have an extra and unusual talent. Some of them can be trained to fly home.
Elephants: 2000 BC
India is the region where elephants are first tamed, during the Indus civilization. The two species of elephant are at this time widespread - the Indian elephant throughout temperate Asia as far west as Syria, and the African elephant in regions north and south of the Sahara. (The mammoth has become extinct by the end of the last glacial period, about 10,000 years ago - partly through climatic changes and partly at the hands of human hunters.)
It is not known when elephants are first trained to take part in war, but by the 3rd century BC they are a valuable military force in both India and north Africa. An ability to learn tricks also makes the elephant a performing animal, popular in the arena of the Roman circus.
The honey of the bee: before the 6th century BC
No doubt hunter-gatherers, when they find the honey of bees in a hollow tree, often risk a sting for the pleasure of sweetness. The story of beekeeping can be described as the search for safer and more convenient ways of robbing a bees' nest.
The turning point in the domestication of the bee is the discovery that a swarm of bees can be coaxed into a specific nest - one designed by man for his own convenience in collecting the honey, and with it the useful substance of beeswax.
It is not known when the beehive is first developed, but the Greeks in classical times use a design which for centuries remains standard in much of Europe. Known as a skep, it is a dome constructed from a continuous coil of woven straw - looking much like an upturned basket. It stands on a wooden platform with a hole in, through which the bees enter.
The disadvantage of such a system is that the removal of the honey involves disturbing the nest of the bees. From the 17th century, when wooden hives come into use, extra chambers are added for the collection of honey. But the major improvement in beekeeping techniques is the achievement of a 19th-century clergyman, L.L. Langstroth.
Rabbits: from the 1st century BC
Since Roman times, if not before, people have encouraged rabbits to breed in captivity for the sake of their meat, and have then regretted doing so because of the animal's ability to burrow to freedom and eat the crops. The only safe place to keep rabbits is on an island. (Almost every island of the world has rabbits on, brought by humans to establish a living larder for passing ships.)
Rabbits are inaccessible in their burrows, so man domesticates a species of polecat (in the form of the ferret) to flush them out. As early as the 1st century AD Pliny describes the use of ferrets in the Balearic islands, as the inhabitants struggle to control the rabbits.
The turkey: from the 14th century
The turkey is indigenous to central and north America. It is kept as a domestic fowl by the Aztecs in Mexico from the 14th century, and no doubt has been domesticated considerably earlier by their predecessors.
Turkeys are brought to Europe by the Spanish in the early 16th century. They become popular throughout the continent, and in the 17th century are taken back across the Atlantic by English settlers. Interbred with wild turkeys of north America, they develop into the breeds known there today.
The ostrich: 19th - 20th century
In addition to the standard domesticated animals, many others have been kept or are now kept by humans for a wide range of purposes.
A good example is the ostrich. In the late 19th-century the fashion for ostrich feathers, in hats or fans, causes farmers to domesticate and breed this largest of birds. In the late 20th-century there is more interest in it for its meat - causing British officials to reclassify live ostriches as zero-rated for VAT purposes.
The hamster: 1930
In the ongoing story of domestication, the remarkable case of the golden hamster is a good detail for a closing chapter. In 1930 a female hamster with twelve young is captured at Aleppo in Syria. Taken to the laboratory at the Hebrew university in Jerusalem, they are bred for use in experiments. Each female has several litters a year, so the numbers rapidly grow. Other laboratories secure their own supply from Jerusalem. Then somebody notices that this little animal - chubby, with puffed out cheeks and soft fur - has considerable charm as a pet for children.
Half a century on the golden hamster is a common domesticated animal. Every single hamster in capitivity descends from that first Syrian litter.
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