is the study of animals. Among Muslim and specifically
Andalusian writers and practitioners on zoology, there were
two types of zoological studies: literary and practical,
(related either to agriculture or veterinary medicine).
These eventually merged in some ways, with both contributing
to the scientific study of animals. Islamic learning
inherited three traditions that fused into what we call
zoology today. One was the pre-Islamic Arab tradition of
nomadism and breeding of horses, camels, sheep and goats,
which with the spread of Islam, came in contact with the
Indian-Persian and Greek traditions of animal study.
classical and Medieval times, writers and artists produced
bestiaries -- a bestiary is a zoo in a book -- in which
exotic animals were described. Many rulers kept gardens in
which exotic animals were raised, such as nightingales and
peacocks, and rare animals might feature as royal gifts.
Falcons and other animals used for hunting were especially
popular, and there were many guides on the art of falconing.
Other fields related to zoology were the study of
domesticated animals and their care, breeding (reproduction)
and veterinary medicine. Sheep, cattle, and especially
horses were important, but so were fowl, such as chickens,
ducks, geese, and doves.
most famous Muslim writer on animals is al-Jahiz (776-868
CE), a literary figure in Abbasid Baghdad. He was able to
draw on the works being translated in the House of Wisdom,
and was known to rent bookshops in order to read what they
contained. His most famous work is
Book of the Animals,
which built upon the work of Aristotle’s Generation of
Animals, as well as including stories about animals,
verses from the Qur’an and Hadith concerning animals, poetry
book is not purely zoology, nor is it just a bestiary,
because al-Jahiz was an essayist and man of literature who
valued entertainment for his audience. He did, however,
succeed in inserting many scientific observations into the
work. For example, he discusses mimicry and camouflage,
sensitivity to light, and the impact of climate and
geography on the fauna of a region, and investigates animal
behavior, communication and organization into communities,
particularly among insects.
critics find ideas related to the evolution of creatures and
their similarities and adaptations to the environment.
was produced in many illustrated editions that found their
way into libraries across the Muslim lands, including Al-Andalus.
In this way, he may be said to have succeeded in his mission
of entertaining and informing.
writers, such as the Christian
Bakhtishu, wrote in this field. He worked in the
House of Wisdom and gained access to Greek works for
translation into Arabic there. He wrote
The Uses of Animals
in a practical vein in the 8th century. Al-Asmai (740-828
CE) contributed to the fields of zoology and animal
husbandry (care and breeding of animals). His important work
on breeding horses and camels was highly valued and
pioneered as a systematic study of scientific breeding, an
area in which Arab contributions are still important today.
Kamal al-Din al-Damiri wrote a popular Muslim book,
The Great Book on the Life
of Animals, and Abu Yahya Zakariyya al-Qazwini
wrote an encyclopedia,
The Wonders of Creation, both in the 14th century
Abu Ubaidah (728--825 CE) wrote more than fifty books on the
study of the horse. The
Calendar of Córdoba,
which was translated and given to the German Emperor Otto
during the 10th century, also included
information about animal care and breeding, and the use of
manure for fertilizer. Al-Ishbili, who wrote in Seville
during the 12th century, included livestock
rearing and veterinary medicine in his book on agriculture.
Ibn al-Awwam's 12th century
(Book of Agriculture)
included both animal husbandry and bee keeping. Ibn al-Baytar’s
book on pharmacology included useful medicines for
The Andalusian horse is one of three breeds from which
modern horses descended, and most modern breeds have
Andalusian blood. The Andalusian breed was perfected during
Muslim rule in Spain, and spread to the New World with the
Spanish conquistadors. One of the Arabs’ innovations was the
pedigree, or tracing the ancestry of a horse. The Spanish
continued this tradition, which has lasted to the present
knowledge of horses is still an important contribution
today, and so are Arabian horses as a prominent breed. Fine
Merino wool, which probably originated in Morocco, was the
result of careful sheep breeding. The broad sweep of the
Muslim lands meant that different animals could be
cross-bred from many regions. Selective breeding of animals
from different parts of the world improved these breeds and
introduced new qualities and adaptability to various
environments. Economically, knowledge of animals was
important in better nutrition, better wool and leather, and
improved transport animals.
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