Here is part two in our brief history of pets, taking a look at all the roles these animals have had throughout the years.
It’s no surprise that rats have not always been the nation’s favourite! The Egyptians revered cats for their ability to control these rodents that were capable of destroying a whole harvest, leading to the starvation of entire nations. However, rat-lovers in the 19th century created unusual colourations by breeding away from the original dull, brown colour. Rats started to gain popularity, illustrating how well rebranding can work!
Guinea pigs are the great escape story of the mid-16th century. They had been bred in Perú for food since around 5,000BC. And when the Spanish conquered the country, these lovely rodents returned with the conquerors in their ships. However, bizarrely, the Europeans decided NOT to eat them and treated them as pets instead! Phew! Close call, as their rabbit cousins didn’t get off so lightly.
Colour mutations were also the saving grace of the mouse. Once the possibility of breeding various colours of fancy mice became apparent in the 18th century, the Japanese took them on as pets in quite a big way. So much so that the book The Breeding of Curious Varieties of the Mouse appeared in 1787 to help owners with this new hobby. Their popularity spread worldwide, and The National Mouse Club was established in Great Britain in 1895.
Our most popular Gerbil breeds originate from Mongolia and the Sahara. Discovered in the late 19th century, they didn’t prove popular until the 1960s. Hamsters/Chinchillas Hamsters exist in the wild in various types and colours, but our popular Syrian hamster was discovered in captivity in the 1800s. They were thought to be extinct until one litter was found and taken to Palestine to use for research! Luckily, they started to become popular in the 1930s as pets. Chinchillas are now popular pets, though they require plenty of exercise and special dental care.
Hamsters exist in the wild in various types and colours, but our popular Syrian hamster was discovered in captivity in the 1800s. They were thought to be extinct until one litter was found and taken to Palestine to use for research! Luckily, they
started to become popular in the 1930s as pets.
Chinchillas are now popular pets, though they require plenty of exercise and special dental care.
The Sumerians were considered the first proper fishkeepers back in the fifth century. They, of course, kept and raised them for food. However, the Egyptians also kept fish for food and as ornamental pets. The Chinese firmly established fish, or more precisely, carp, as suitable for keeping as pets back in the 10th century.
Snakes have probably one of the longest associations with humans, but not initially as pets, as they were considered incarnations of demons, evil spirits and gods. References to snakes can be found in religious practices back to Mesopotamia, with the mythical creature Bašmu. Snake charmers were next to keep snakes for many centuries before societies like the Victorians took them into their new zoos. From there, they made the move into people’s homes as pets.
I hope you have enjoyed this little trip through the history of pets and discovering how successful they have been at winning a place in our hearts and homes.
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