Image: ‘The Smiling Macaques’, Tonkean macaques are the least aggressive of all macaque species. They even seem to smile.
Nature is supposed to be red in tooth and claw, and domestication an artificial process for making animals gentle. But it appears that some corners of the animal kingdom are becoming kinder, gentler places. Certain creatures may be domesticating themselves.
This possibility is most apparent in bonobos, a close cousin of chimpanzees. Unlike their violent cousins, bonobos are generally peaceful. And while many animals have evolved to be socially agreeable, bonobos — and possibly other species — seem to be experiencing something more precise and profound: the physical and behavioral changes specifically described in studies of domestication, but as a natural evolutionary process.
“Normally you think of domestication as something that happens at the hands of humans,” said Brian Hare, a Duke University evolutionary anthropologist and co-author of a bonobo research review published Jan. 20 in Animal Behaviour. “The idea that a species domesticated itself is a bit crazy, but there are some species that outcompeted others by becoming nicer.”