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What is a Hybrid Animal?
At Paradizoo we were delighted to see a wonderful, miniature horse. Our guide told us it is a hybrid of a pony and a donkey. The first time I had seen a miniature horse was on a TV show, but this one at Paradizoo is exceptionally tiny, about half the size of the one on TV.
A miniature horse can’t exceed 34 inches in height, but smaller ones, like the one at Paradizoo, do exist. We saw another miniature animal, which our guide said is part goat. It wasn’t a geep (goat and sheep) because it had a mane and a long horse face. It’s eyes didn’t have the slit of goats and sheep, but both eyes were of different colors. Could it have mated with a pony with a dwarf gene?
Our guide said Paradizoo is an educational theme park. There is a camping ground for school children, a log cabin that can be rented overnight, and a smaller container van that can accommodate two people.
Is it ethical to mix two different animals breeds unnaturally? Are there unseen consequences? After doing some research, my findings were quite surprising.
My article came out in the June, 2015 issue of Enrich
Here is a wonderful book about the success of one of the oldest hybrids, the mule. It is most informative and shows how some hybrids can be part successful.
The oldest known animal hybrid dates back to ancient Greece. This is the mule, which is a horse and donkey blend. Ancient Greece, rhytons (containers used to hold drinks) were often designed with the head of a mule.
One dates back to the 5th century, made by a potter named Brygos. It is in the French Departmental Museum of Archaeology Gilort (Jérôme) Carcopino. Nature does put brakes on hybrids though, as most of them are infertile including male Mules. However, female mules can be fertilized by a pure horse or donkey.
Mules are mentioned in ancient literature. In 480 BC, Herodotus mentioned “a mule brought forth young and gave birth to a mule.” He interpreted this as an evil omen.
First page of my article
Scientists say that 10 percent of animals occasionally breed with other species, but usually the male remains infertile. The most hybrid from the wild is the grolar bear, (a grizzly bear and polar bear). It is believed that as the ice cap continues to melt, polar bears enter grizzly territory and mate. Grolar bears have been sighted in the wild since 1964. The grolar bear is fertile, and some are born in captivity.
Page two of my article
The Coyowolf (coyote and wolf) is so common that they are called red wolves, despite the presence of the coyote genes. Some call it a wolf subspecies, neglecting its coyote side. It is believed that with the growth of civilization, the natural habitat of both of these animals was limited and the new closeness led to inbreeding.
As for the two lovely miniature horses in Paradizoo, they actually date as far back as the time of the pharaohs (and skeletons of these horses were found buried alongside them). The earliest record is 1650 AD at Versailles Palace, France where King Louis XIV had a zoo, including tiny horses.
The “refined” tiny horses were pets for European royalty, while the sturdier types were workhorses for British coal miners. They were brought to the US in 1888 to work in the mines, and were often bred with Shetland ponies. They were widely recognized in the 1950s.
The miniature horse is a lovable and beautiful animal. This book can give you valuable advice and knowledge about miniature horses.
Photo of Ed and me with miniature horse
In the Mottola ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona, the family had no idea that one of their sheep was pregnant. After all, they didn’t have any male sheep. But they did have goats and one, apparently, impregnated a sheep. The offspring was named Butterfly.
The Mottola experience is rare. Usually a geep is made in a lab by scientists who fuse the embryos in a lab. The resulting animal is a chimera which will have the dominant features of the dominant embryo tissue. Male geeps are sterile, but in 2000, a geep called The toast of Botswana had a highly sexual appetite (though sterile) and eventually was castrated.
Another chimera, the spider goat, is made by gene splicing and injecting spider genes in a goat. The goat emits a spider silk milk that is stronger than Kevlar, stretches further than nylon, and is tougher than steel.
Third page of my article
Crossing a Border
Chimeras are made for many reasons -- stem cell research, to improve the quality of the meat of cattle, or to improve animal performance, among others. Sometimes they are made to be sold as a pet, or attract people to an animal facility, among others.
One example are ligers (lion plus tiger) which are reared in some zoos. Liger cubs are larger than normal, requiring a c-section on the mother at birth. Ligers are the biggest cats in the world. Liger males are sterile, but the women can be fertilized by pure lions or tigers. When ligers are too big, sometimes they are “put to sleep”.
The zorse (zebra and a horse) and zonkeys (zebras and donkeys) and zonies (zebras and ponies) are mated by humans. The first zorses were made in England and Africa to breed an animal that could resist the tse tse fly.
Zebroids (zebra hybrids) ended when the car was invented, but resurrected in the 1990s. Zebroids retain their wild, untamable side, and are not recommended for people who have no experience with a horse. Zebroids are sterile.
Date of Enrich Magazine issue
Human Animal Border
Perhaps the most questionable border involves merging human and animal cells. The reasons are benevolent – to find cures for illnesses, but the process and possible consequences are highly questionable.
In 2003, Scientists at Shanghai Second Medical University merged human cells with rabbit eggs to grow tissues and cells for transplants. In 2004, Scientists from the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota pumped human blood cells into pigs. Some blood cells merged into human-pig blood hybrids. The experiment was conducted to understand how viruses pass from animals to people. In 2005, Professor Irving Weissman of Stanford University inserted human-brain stem cells into mice brains to gain understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Another hybrid at Paradizoo
Is Animal Human Mating Normal?
In 2010 Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig, Germany) discovered the Ust’-Ishim man in western Siberia. This gave him access to a sizeable amount of the Neanderthal genome. The specimen, which died 45,000 years ago, had the same Neanderthal DNA proportion as Eurasians today, or 1 – 4 percent Neanderthal DNA sequence. The exception was people from sub-Sahara Africa, who did not have the Neanderthal gene.
David Reich of Harvard University stated in a research paper that Paabo’s findings show that Neanderthals interbred with humans perhaps 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Reich concluded, “modern humans with modern behavior interbred with Neanderthals.”
That being said, I still have strong feelings about the prospect of inserting human brain cells into the brains of mice. Sometimes, we really must know when to stop.