Thank you Charles Darwin for helping us to understand Evolution. Without our respect and our acknowledgement for the evolutionary process, we could not comprehend the qualities each species has required to cope with its ever-changing environment. If any species is incapable of changing in order to survive the changes in its habitat, extinction will result. And, because we humans are capable of causing great environmental changes, which can alter habitats swiftly and dramatically, we see increasing extinctions in our short lifetimes right now, of many species.
Serving as a veterinarian for a huge variety of species (“Mixed Practice”, for me, meant livestock, pets, zoo and circus animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, etc.) gave me insight into their biological and environmental needs. And, I am convinced, into the needs for our own species.
For example, let us consider the horse, a species that has served mankind profoundly, both as a wild food source, and as a domestic servant and as a companion animal.
In its natural environment, wild horses live on open grasslands, in habitats, which include climatic extremes such as long, bitterly cold winters, humid seasons, arid deserts, and extremely hot times of the year.
Above all, they exist in herds and in open spaces, which enhance their ability to survive predation by hungry carnivorous predatory species.
Yet, we humans, to a great extent, and for our own convenience, keep horses locked in box stalls. What environment is more threatening to a creature that lives in the wild, in herds, in wide, open areas where their primary defense, flight, ensures the odds for survival?
For this reason, I have never kept my own equines locked in tiny box stalls. Despite each species adaptability, the farther removed they are from a more unnatural environment, the more content they will be and the fewer psychologically caused problems we will see (like cribbing and wood chewing, etc.).
This concept of trying to keep animals in an unnatural habitat (zoo species, domestic pet animals, and agricultural species) so far as possible, in an environment which is more “natural” for them, will mean fewer behavior or physical problems.
As another example, let’s look at “Man’s Best Friend” (the dog):
Descended from wild canines, such as the Wolf, the natural environment for dogs should include:
Mankind has, remarkably, enhanced by artificial breeding selection, developed an amazing relationship with dogs, in a remarkable variety of ethnic and social communities.
In the wild, this aggressive carnivore always lives in groups. But, just as we can make dogs a surrogate family or tribal member, so is the dog able to view us as part of its pack. (Hence the title, “Man’s Best Friend.”) Thus a pet Chihuahua living in an apartment, in a crowded city, can be completely content with its owners. It is part of the “pack.” And, its confinement to a small apartment isn’t “unnatural.” It is happy to be part of the pack.
Not the same as the horse, especially if devoid of other company (same species or a substitute surrogate such as a human, a goat, or even a chicken).
If we really care about animal welfare, we must, for each species, evaluate its natural habitat, its diet, its companions, in its role as a companion, a servant, a protector, etc.
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