What is a domestic animal

A domestic animal can be defined as one that has been bred for a long time in captivity for economic profit in a human community that maintains total control over its territorial organization, food supply, and breeding, which is the most important issue. Because domestic animals did not develop in a process of natural evolution, they are not considered distinct animal species, and in the zoological terminology they are catergorized as forms.

Humans breed and use many other animals that have not passed through the domestication process. A typical example is the elephant. The working elephant has been used for some 5,000 years and is still an important part of the work force in Southeast Asia, even though they were never domesticated. Every individual is caught in the wild, violently tamed, and educated to perform specific work. It almost never reproduces in captivity. The Indian elephant (Elephas maximus) is used mostly for work, but the ancient martial elephants, for example those in Hanibal's army, were African elephants (Loxodonta africana). Other nondomesticated animals humans have employed include birds of prey used for hunting (falconry), cormorants used for fishing, macaques used to pick cocoa nuts on the beaches, and dolphins and pinnipeds used by some militaries.

Laboratory animals used for investigative and experimental purposes are also a special group. Even though they have a shorter history of coexistence with humans than the more common domestic animals, these other species are also considered domestic. Almost all domestic animals have been used as laboratory animals, but not all laboratory animals are domesticated. In the last decades, the spectrum of animals used for laboratory purposes has expanded to include wild animals.

A special group of domesticated animals is pets. People have been breeding them in their surroundings for several centuries or millennia, for example, the peacock or the dancing mouse.

Species that humans breed and change also include semi-domesticated animals, such as the fallow deer kept in enclosures. They reproduce with no problems and have several color forms. Animals used for fur also belong to this group (mink, fox, coypu, chinchilla), as do ostriches, which are bred in farms.

Another group of animals called "commensal," live with humans. Commensalism is defined as the reciprocal coexistence of two or more organisms. One of them benefits from this relationship and the other is neither harmed nor benefits ("no harm parasitism"). This relationship is very free, close to symbiosis. Humans provide many opportunities for commensalism. For example the house mouse (Mus

Sometimes mammals are used for entertainment, such is the case with horse racing. (Photo by © Kevin R. Morris/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.)

musculus) exploits human hospitality, and obtains food profit from human coexistence as well as a safe hiding place. Rats, rooks, seagulls, and many other animal species benefit from rich food allocation in human wastedumps. Another example of commensalism is the pariah dogs in Asia and Africa. These live by scavenging around human towns, settlements, and roads. They are tolerated because they contribute to tidiness.

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