Tuesday 8 May 2012

Breeding Improving On Nature

It is easy to improve animals, birds or plants through breeding. This is what Harrison Weir, the founder of the cat fancy, writes in his book of 1889: Our Cats and all about them (page 84). Is this true? We have to take into account that it was written over 120 years ago. However, many cat breeders today think the same.

What Mr Weir is saying is that we can improve on nature. Nature has taken 4.5 billion years to create the domestic cat and us (4,500,000,000 years). Harrison Weir believed that within a few years of patient selective breeding and leisure, we could improve that which nature has created over an enormous passage time through natural selection. If you don't believe in natural selection and evolution then you believe in creationism - everything created by a supernatural being. Can we improve on what he or she created?

One advantage that we have is that we can look back after 120 years of cat breeding to see if we have improved the domestic cat.

The assessment is going to be very biased and therefore open to criticism. This is because there are vested interests. All selective breeding has focused heavily on appearance. There is no doubt that the random bred cats of the mid-1800s that have been "refined" through selective breeding are more attractive. However that is not always the case and looks are subjective anyway. Some breeding has gone too far, showing a typical weakness in human endeavour.

Invariable, while focusing on appearance, health has been overlooked and it is generally accepted that purebred cats have shorter lives on average that random breed cats; all other things and circumstances being equal.

Accordingly, 120 years of breeding has resulted in cats that look better to some people and cats that are less healthy to all people. Is that improving the cat when taken as a whole?

For me, we have no right to think that we can improve on nature or the work of a supernatural being either of which created us. It smacks of human arrogance.

If we want to improve animals we need simply to improve their lives by making the world safer for them and learning to live with them more harmoniously. That will allow them to thrive and improve themselves.

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