The author starts the chapter Zebras, Unhappy Marriages, and the Anna Karenina Principle by paraphrasing the first paragraph of Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina: “Domesticable animals are all alike; every undomesticable animal is undomesticable in its own way” (Hoff 1). The Anna Karenina Principle is a broad assertion on how the world perceives achievement and loss. The speaker employs the theory to demonstrate that success is defined by the small and unique events that occur within a larger occurrence, while failure is defined by the whole event. The first line is what forms the basic structure of the paper as the author tries to explain the various strict requirements for an animal to be domesticated. It is the various strict requirements that make a big number of mammals not to be domesticated. An animal may have one or more of the qualification for domestication but lacking in one or more of the rest. The failure to have one of the requirements makes the mammal undomesticable., even though it may have other desirable qualities.
A domesticated animal is any that is bred in captivity and modified from its wild tendencies. Human beings domesticate animals for the various benefits that they provide. The benefits include protection, food, clothing, fertilizer, land transport, military service, labor in agricultural activities and germs that help in population control (Hoff 1). The author points out that fewer animals have been domesticated as compared to the number of plants that have been domesticated. Humans were only able to domesticate fourteen species before the twentieth century and out of these, five are deemed most important and they include the horse, cow, sheep goat and pig.
The availability of large mammals that have been domesticated in a continent is attributed to geographic reasons rather than the human abilities of the continents inhabitants. The ancient families of the fourteen species can be found all over the world but not in equal measure. For instance, in South Africa, there existed only one large mammal from which the llama and alpaca came to exist (Hoff 3). In the present day, however, there are no large mammals being domesticated in Africa even though there are a million visits to the continent to see the large mammals like lions and elephants.
The author also explains why Eurasian civilizations managed to domesticate animals while Africans did not. Societies culture did not develop along the same lines regarding animal domestication and use because of geographic, historical and animal biological dispositions. Eurasian civilizations are said to have thrived because they had an abundance of the large domesticable mammals which had to be weighing over a hundred pounds and be either omnivorous or herbivorous (Hoff 4). As such, the large mammals are restricted to those that could be utilized in agricultural activities.
One would argue that culture made it easy for the Europeans to easily interact with the animals while it barred others like Australians and Africans from trying to domesticate the animals. Many a times when material differences between societies cannot be explained they are attributed to cultural differences. The author refutes the approach giving various reasons: in the present day, Africans readily adopt pets, there is a universal mankind fascination with animals, and there are continued efforts to domesticate animals by Africans. There have been failed attempts to domesticate the zebra, the elk and the bison and such should be attributed to internal biological factors in animals and not the people trying to domesticate them.
The author also lists the specific qualities that make it possible for an animal to be domesticated. The animal cannot be a carnivore because this will require the captivator to hunt down other small animals to feed the animal. Secondly, the animal should have the biological disposition to be able to grow up quickly. Thirdly, the animal must exhibit comfort being bred in captivity. The animal should not be perceived to have a nasty disposition like killing human beings and the animal should not have the tendency to panic in the face of danger. Finally, the animal must be used to the idea of having a leader in the wild and hence used to being herd (Hoff 3-4).
In trying to explain the reasons why some animals could be domesticated and others could not, the author has divided the discussion into three parts. The first part is an introduction in which the problem under deliberation is posed which is what makes some animals domesticable and others undomesticable. The author lightly answers this with the parody that all animals that are bred in captivity are alike and that those that do not qualify have unique reasons.
Secondly, the article delves into the discussion part which forms the body of the article. In the discussion section, the author explains why animals are domesticated and what factors are to be met for the animals to be domesticated. The author expounds on the first line, that the lack of one or more of the basic qualifications makes an animal undomesticable. The author also refutes the common cultural differences reason as to why some cultures were successful at domesticating animals while others were not and gives a scientific approach to the difference. The author gives the reasons as environmental, biological and historical features as determining taming capacity of animals.
Finally, there is the conclusion section in which the author revisits the outset problem where some animals are domesticated while their close relatives are not successfully domesticated. The author connects the Anna Karenina Principle to the elimination of the animals in the efforts to domesticate animals. The conclusion also indicates that it is not cultural differences that resulted in some animals being domesticated and others being undomesticated but rather differences in geographic, historical and biological dispositions of the animals.
In conclusion, the article is very relevant to learning world cultures and how they developed. The article has been able to rise above the common reason given to every other material differences between societies and given an objective explanation to cultural differences that include historical, environmental and biological features. Civilizations were not able to domesticate the same animals not because of their beliefs, talents or abilities but rather because their environments were endowed with differing species of animals with differing biological features. The result is that only a few number of species was domesticated out of the vast number of potential candidates.
Hoff. Zebras, Unhappy Marriages, and the Anna Karenina Principle.