Turkeys do vote for Christmas - official-ish

TURKEYS like Christmas. Indeed they depend upon it. Were it not for Christmas and stuffing, the turkey population could go into decline.

These challenging ideas come from Ray Carpenter, an American professor of biology, whose theories on evolution do not go down well with orthodox geneticists.

He argues that, while domestication means death for millions of British turkeys each year, it makes certain that the species survives and goes on getting fatter.

'If you want to test the success of a species you look to see if the population has increased over time. There are more pounds of turkey around today than ever.'

So turkeys voted for Christmas? Absolutely, says Professor Carpenter, from Hampshire College, Amherst, Massachusetts. 'Humans didn't select the animals that became domesticated. They volunteered themselves.'

According to his theory, wild animals became domesticated when humans began to live in settlements and accumulate rubbish. This provided a ready food supply for the braver animals, giving them a selective advantage over those that took their chance in the wild. But it was essential that they offered humans something in return. Turkeys - unlike, say, horses - had little to offer. So, had they been too cowardly or too aggressive to volunteer for the carving knife, they would have been sent back to join the tigers in the forests - and look what happened to them.

Individual animals may have come to a sticky end but not before the next generation was ready for fattening. The species, therefore, flourished. 'So long as man is willing to ensure that the offspring survive, it is a positive advantage to turkeys to be eaten,' Professor Carpenter said.

The theory also applies to wild pigs and dogs. Dogs? 'Certainly. I know it is very unpopular, but dogs provided regular litters of puppies which were a valuable food supply and they provided their fur.'

All trussed up, page 19