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Guns, Germs, and Steel

by Jared Diamond

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What are the six characteristics of domesticated animals according to Guns, Germs, and Steel?

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The six characteristics of domesticated animals are captive breeding, quick growth, docility, social/herd structure, flexible and efficient diet and calm.

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In Chapter 9 of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond discusses the six main characteristics necessary for an animal to be domesticated successfully.

  1. Captive breeding: Some animals breed easily in captivity and others do not. For an animal to be domesticated, it must breed easily and readily in captivity without the need for artificial aids or inducements. While modern technology has contributed to the ability of zoos to breed rare and exotic animals, that technology did not exist when animals were first domesticated.
  2. Quick Growth: To make raising animals for food productive, the animals must grow quickly so that their food value is worth the investment in feeding and care.
  3. Docility: An animal must be fairly docile and easy to handle by humans and also avoid getting in fights with other animals to be domesticated easily. Animals which routinely attack their owners and herd-mates are hard to care for.
  4. Social/herd structure: Animals that have social herd structures and shared territories in the wild are easier to manage than solitary animals.
  5. Flexible and efficient diet: Domestic animals must have a flexible and efficient diet on which they can readily grow and thrive. Domestic food animals should be basically herbivorous so they can graze rather than requiring special diets.
  6. Calm: Animals such as antelope which are prone to panic attacks escape or injure themselves and so make bad choices for domestication.
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According to Diamond, there are a number of qualities that an animal species must have if it is to be domesticated.  These include:

  • Diet.  It cannot be a carnivore because it takes too much to feed them.
  • Growth rate.  It has to grow quickly so you don't have to spend too much feeding it before you kill and eat it.
  • Breeding.  It has to be willing to breed in captivity.
  • Disposition.  Mean and aggressive animals can't be domesticated.
  • Tendency to panic.  If an animal is likely to panic and become uncontrollable, it will be too dangerous to domesticate it.
  • Social structure.  It is very helpful if the animal is a herd animal or one that is used to living in a hierarchical society.  That way, it will be more likely to obey humans.

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