NPR logo How About A Pot-Bellied Pig For A Pet? Why And How We Domesticate Animals

National Geographic

How About A Pot-Bellied Pig For A Pet? Why And How We Domesticate Animals

Daisy Mae, a miniature Vietnamese potbellied pig, lounges on a couch in West St. Paul, Minn. Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic hide caption

toggle caption Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

Daisy Mae, a miniature Vietnamese potbellied pig, lounges on a couch in West St. Paul, Minn.

Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

I don't know how it got to this point, but in my small Tennessee hometown, deer are totally out of control. They wander front yards and side streets as if you are inconveniencing them. The temerity!

My guess is that they've just adapted to a growing human presence; that suburbanization has pushed them, sadly, out of their cozy Bambi coves and onto sidewalks. An article in National Geographic's March issue suggests that this could be how animals, over generations, become domestic — or desensitized to us.

"Did a few curious boar creep closer to human populations, feeding off their garbage and with each successive generation becoming a little more a part of our diet? Did humans capture red jungle fowl, the ancestor of the modern chicken, straight from the wild — or did the fowl make the first approach?"

The article explores the various ways humans have tried — and are still trying — to domesticate animals, as well as the ways animals seem to domesticate themselves. Scientists are approaching some strong theories on how a vicious fox could become man's best friend. As for why we would domesticate foxes and potbellied pigs ... the jury is still out.

Scientists are studying the aggressive rat genome, attempting to untangle connections between DNA and behavior. This brown rat's angry display at the photographer reflects 73 generations of breeding for hostility to humans. Vincent J Musi/National Geographic hide caption

toggle caption Vincent J Musi/National Geographic

Scientists are studying the aggressive rat genome, attempting to untangle connections between DNA and behavior. This brown rat's angry display at the photographer reflects 73 generations of breeding for hostility to humans.

Vincent J Musi/National Geographic

Two wolves and a wolf-dog hybrid (foreground), traveling ambassadors for a sanctuary for captive-born wolves, illustrate the genetic starting point for all dog breeds. Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic hide caption

toggle caption Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

Two wolves and a wolf-dog hybrid (foreground), traveling ambassadors for a sanctuary for captive-born wolves, illustrate the genetic starting point for all dog breeds.

Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

Alisa is one of two foxes living as pets in a wealthy home outside of St. Petersburg in Russia. She is friendly with her human companions and with the family's dog, too. Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic hide caption

toggle caption Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

Alisa is one of two foxes living as pets in a wealthy home outside of St. Petersburg in Russia. She is friendly with her human companions and with the family's dog, too.

Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

Two chickens, both eight weeks old but vastly different in weight, show off size-based breeding by geneticist Paul Siegel at Virginia Tech. Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic hide caption

toggle caption Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

Two chickens, both eight weeks old but vastly different in weight, show off size-based breeding by geneticist Paul Siegel at Virginia Tech.

Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

Farmers bring their sheep to the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh, Scotland, where a CT scanner analyzes the "carcass quality" of live animals, so the best can be selected for breeding. Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic hide caption

toggle caption Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

Farmers bring their sheep to the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh, Scotland, where a CT scanner analyzes the "carcass quality" of live animals, so the best can be selected for breeding.

Vincent J. Musi/National Geographic

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.