Weirdest Animals People Tried to Domesticate, Ranked
Animal domestication is different than simply taming them — after all, it takes years of selective breeding. Dogs were domesticated more than 30,000 years ago. Cats, around 10,000 years ago. But both addressed a similar desire in humans as they looked at wild animals over time and went, "Aw, fluffy! Can we keep it?"
While the answer was yes for several animals, including all commonly kept pets and livestock, for other creatures, the answer was a resounding "heck no." We can't help wondering what people were thinking when they tried to domesticate these 15 animals.
Raccoons are in 15th place because we'd totally keep one as a pet if getting bit by a rabid trash panda were not a distinct possibility. Raccoons are a decent candidate for domestication at first glance. They're a manageable size and cute, and their hand-like paws could be extremely useful if they were trained as service animals.
The problem is that those useful paws can get into just about anything. It's much harder to keep a raccoon out of trouble than a dog or cat. Raccoons are also naturally solitary. Social animals, like dogs, are often easier to domesticate because living communally is in their nature. Sadly, a truly domesticated raccoon won't happen anytime soon.
Unlike domesticated raccoons, domesticated foxes do exist. But they're solid evidence for why not all animals should be domesticated, even if they can be. Foxes were domesticated during a biological experiment in Siberia conducted by a scientist named Dmitry Belyaev in the 1960s. He picked foxes to domesticate based on their genetic ties with dogs, and he selected individuals from fur farms that exhibited the tamest behavior.
Over several generations, he succeeded in creating a population of foxes that are friendly, unafraid of humans and actively seek out human attention. As cool as it sounds to have a pet fox, the truth of owning one is much less enticing. They're friendly, but they remain much wilder in behavior than a dog or cat. Domesticated foxes can't be potty trained, and they've been known to pee not just on furniture but in their keeper's morning coffee. Hard pass.
Like foxes, skunks have technically been domesticated. Technically. Domesticated skunks can be loving and affectionate pets, but there's one issue: Domesticated skunks have their scent glands removed as babies. It's not painful to the skunk, but it leaves them devoid of defense mechanisms if they decide to escape.
Unlike dogs and cats, they don't have a good enough sense of direction to find their way back home. Since pet skunks don't have any hunting or foraging skills, they're in big trouble if they're left alone in the wild. Owning a skunk, even a domesticated one, is much different than owning a dog. It's a lot of work to keep them healthy, so they're only legal in 17 states, and most require a permit.
For all of their resemblance to dogs, dingoes are not dogs. Dingoes are the only native Australian dog, and they're unique from every other member of the canine family. While they look a lot like large dogs, similar to a German shepherd mix, they're completely wild in temperament.
Dingoes don't usually attack people, but they do pack a powerful bite if startled or cornered. Mother dingoes are also aggressively protective of their pups. There was one case in which a dingo grabbed a baby girl from a tent in 1980. Because domesticating dingoes is so difficult, it has never been done. Anyone who keeps dingoes as pets in Australia is required to take the dingo from their litter under the age of 6 weeks in order to help them trust humans and minimize aggressive behavior.
Coyotes are relatives of dogs, close enough that it's possible for the two species to interbreed. It might seem cool to have a piece of the wilderness in your house, but a spirited husky is about as wild as most of us can handle. Coyotes are illegal to keep in most areas, or they require a permit. This depends on whether or not they're native to the area and whether they're considered pests.
Coyotes could be domesticated, theoretically, but no one has stuck with the process of domestication for long enough to find out what happens — probably because the result wouldn't be all that different from a domesticated dog, and we already have those. A tame coyote is as good as it gets, and that's not very good at all. Even if you raise one from puppyhood, it'll still be wary of people and other canines.
Zebras fall in 10th place on this list because we can see why someone might want to domesticate them. They look like horses, only so much cooler. They can run just as fast, so why not? The answer all comes down to evolution.
Zebras, like horses, are prey animals. Unlike horses, zebras evolved to be wary of human hunters. In their native habitat, they were once hunted by African hunters using poisoned arrows with a 40-yard range. To this day, they bolt when humans get any closer than this, while wild horses don't flee until we get about 18 yards away. Zebras are instinctively fearful of humans, and when we tried to domesticate them, we failed miserably. They're far to anxious, aggressive and unpredictable to be worth the effort.
Bonobos, a cousin of the chimpanzee, aren't domesticated ... mostly. We didn't intentionally domesticate bonobos, but they've come close to domesticating themselves. The African ape resembles a smaller version of a chimp, but they're much less aggressive and have developed shorter canine teeth throughout the generations — much like the way dogs evolved to be different than wolves.
Bonobos likely found themselves in an environment that rewarded less aggressive behavior, resulting in offspring that were increasingly docile. Does that make them decent pets? Absolutely not. Bonobos are smaller than chimps, but they can and will bite when they want to. One bonobo bit off his handler's finger. For that reason, they're illegal practically everywhere.
If you thought bonobos were bad, wait until you hear about chimps. People have tried to domesticate them, but the domestication process is one that takes decades, if not centuries. To domesticate an animal as wild and aggressive as a chimpanzee would take a serious breeding program led by biologists in a specialized facility. Instead, people have tried to do it on their own, with tragic results.
In the pet trade, baby chimpanzees are illegally separated from their mothers at birth. They can bond with humans and rely on caretakers for almost everything for the first five or so years of their lives. Even if you get that far, the chimp will never be truly tame. By the age of 8, they can easily overpower a human. Even playing can cause severe injuries. One chimpanzee named Travis attacked his owner's friend, causing severe disfigurement. Unless scientists eventually succeed in domesticating them, stick with stuffed chimps from the zoo.
Wallaroos are small versions of kangaroos. They take up much less space than kangaroos, but they can still weigh up to 100 pounds. If that doesn't sound like a lot, imagine trying to walk a 100-pound dog that hasn't been leash trained and can jump over a grown man. Keeping them in zoos is costly enough, and a breeding program would be even more complicated.
They can be kept on farms with a permit in some areas, but they're not going to crave human affection or behave like a true pet. Instead, they'll need a minimum of 2,000 square feet of yard space surrounded by an 8-foot fence, plus an outdoor shelter and a bottomless supply of grass and hay. Good luck with that.
Domesticating a horse is logical because they're relatively non-threatening, and domesticating them came with obvious transportation benefits. A moose is a much different story. A moose can easily weigh over 1,000 pounds and be over 9 feet tall if you include their antlers. Speaking of antlers, those can be lethal.
Moose tend to get less predictable and more aggressive during mating season and during early spring when mothers are raising their calves. Moose can also outrun people, and getting trampled by an angry, 1,000-pound beast with hooves isn't a walk in the park. Moose domestication projects do exist in Russia, but they've never been particularly successful.
Elephants are gentle giants, so it's easy to see why people are entranced by them. Unfortunately, it takes more than a gentle soul to make a domesticated animal. Their size alone makes domestication efforts extremely difficult. They've never been domesticated like dogs or horses. All elephants, even those born and raised in captivity, must be "broken" to be accepting of human control.
Not only is the process of breaking an elephant unethical, but it doesn't lead to future generations of elephants who are less wild. They retain the traits that make them poorly suited for life in captivity. Even those that tolerate tourist rides aren't truly domestic, and it's unfair to the animals to pretend they are. If that's not enough to deter you, just imagine picking up elephant-sized poop.
4. Grizzly Bears
Grizzly bears come solidly in fourth. Here's our reasoning: Grizzlies are more likely to kill you than an elephant but much snugglier in appearance than a gator. We can see the appeal of snuggling a giant, living teddy bear, but domesticating bears remains a losing battle.
Bears can be tamed to some degree, but there are several reasons why they can't be fully domesticated. To be domesticated, an animal must meet several criteria. They must be easily bred in captivity, mature rapidly, eat a wide variety of foods, and be social and docile, to name a few requirements. But bears meet very few of these qualifications.
Unlike wolves, bears are naturally reclusive and solitary. They don't adapt well to social hierarchy. Some people have elected to live with bears with full knowledge of this, and the results are rarely pretty. One couple lost their lives after hanging out with bears one too many times. Just stick with a Samoyed instead. They're much more likely to kiss you to death than to maul you, and you won't get fined for keeping one in the yard.
Here's yet another example of people not grasping the difference between tame and domestic. A woman in Florida named Mary Thorn went through a lengthy legal battle to obtain a license to keep her alligator, Rambo. She walks the reptile on a leash like a dog and has trained him not to bite. Plus, he's smaller than the average American alligator, only about 6 feet long instead of the 10 to 15 feet that a typical male would reach. Cool, right?
Maybe until you think that the poor gator likely wasn't offered proper nutrition or adequate space as a juvenile and can never be released into the wild as a result. Additionally, even if Rambo is as tame as Thorn believes him to be, his offspring would be fully wild, not domesticated.
Trying to domesticate a living dinosaur is bad enough, but there's one mammal that's even harder to domesticate: the hippo. Hippos are notoriously massive and mean. They weigh an average of 3,000 to 5,000 pounds fully grown, and they kill around 500 people every year. They're extremely territorial and violent, and it only takes one bite to bring a human's domestication efforts to a gruesome, permanent halt.
In 2011, one man learned this the hard way. Marius Els from South Africa tried to domesticate hippos, including a 5-year-old hippo named Humphrey. He took the hippo swimming and tried riding him, believing that they were extremely close. But Humphrey disagreed, killing Els and leaving his remains in the very river they used to swim in together. So much for domestication.
1. Great White Sharks
People have attempted to keep great white sharks on numerous occasions, including for entertainment. While the intent in modern times has rarely been to fully tame a shark, even keeping them in an aquarium doesn't go well. First, they rarely live longer than a few days, exhibiting extreme stress when kept in captivity. This is because they need huge amounts of space to thrive, and even the largest aquarium can't sufficiently house a great white.
Second, they become violent and anxious in captivity. One was held at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but it attacked two other sharks and rammed its head into the wall until it was released back into the wild. Since then, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has never tried to keep another great white and never will. Others have practiced free diving with great whites, but knowing how to read an animal's body language is a far cry from taming it. It's fascinating, but a shark is still a shark, and we won't be taking the risk any time soon.