Is that animal wild or domesticated?
You might be surprised
Canadians love animals and many of us share our homes with a range of pets. But there is a stark difference between a dog or a cat as a pet and a parrot or a ball python. These animals referred to as exotic or wild animals are increasingly popular in Canada but there is a dark side to keeping these animals in our homes.
So, what’s the difference between owning a dog and a parrot? A lot in fact. Here we define the different types of animals and explain why some are more suitable as pets than others.
Evolution and domesticated animals
Pets like cats, dogs, and horses are domesticated animals, meaning they have been selectively bred over many generations for specific traits that make them better-suited to living alongside humans. Because these animals are domesticated, with the right care and conditions, they are able to live with humans in captivity without suffering.
The process of domestication occurs over thousands of years. It is believed that dogs may have been domesticated as early as 27,000-40,000 years ago and estimates of cat domestication are between 3,600 and 9,500 years ago.
Exotic animals are wild animals
Exotic animals are wild animals – they are non-domesticated animals that are not native to a region. Snakes, parrots, geckos, turtles, foxes, scorpions and even African cats are just some of the wild animals kept in Canadian homes.
Unlike domesticated animals, these animals are wild. There is no way to replicate the space and freedom that wild animals have in their natural environment in a home. In the wild, a ball python lives in a wide range of habitats, hiding in burrows during the day time and trees at night. In a home environment, ball pythons are restricted to small enclosures, sometimes unable to stretch out to their full body length for their entire lifetime.
Our desire to own non-traditional ‘pets’ fuels an international and often illegal trade of wildlife. Many animals sold into the pet trade start their lives free in the wild where they are captured in often cruel and inhumane ways. Often, they will be packed into small containers or crates, in some instances not even able to breathe or move Shockingly, our investigations have found that up to 66% of African grey parrots who have been poached from the wild for the exotic pet trade will die in transit.
Exotic animals bred in captivity are still wild animals
A wild animal that is bred in captivity doesn’t stop being wild. Despite an owner’s best intentions, wild animals in a home environment often suffer from lack of adequate shelter, food, room to roam and environmental control to keep their body at the temperature it needs to be.
The breeding industry causes its own set of distinct problems for the animals trapped within them. The selective breeding that takes place to produce certain fur markings and scale patterns can have a negative impact on physical and mental health. This is particularly common in snakes and other reptiles as buyers increasingly want genetically-altered versions (designer ‘morphs’) that bear little resemblance to their wild counterparts.
Tamed animals are still wild animals
Some wild animals born in captivity may be more tolerant to humans, but this does not mean that they are domesticated. A wild animal may grow accustomed to people, but they remain wild animals with wild instincts, and suffer in captivity.
 Bluecross and The Born Free Foundation, 2015, One Click Away: An investigation into the online sale of exotic animals as pets.
 Auliya, M. & Schmitz, A. 2010. Python regius. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2010 and Toudonou, Christian AS. 2015. Ball python Python regius. CITES.
 Warwick et al, 2018, Exotic pet suitability: Understanding some problems and using a labelling system to aid animal welfare, environment and consumer protection, Journal of Veterinary Behavior.
Case study: Parrots – Wild at heart
African grey parrots are incredible animals. They are highly social, and are known to fly several kilometers each day in the wild to forage for food.
But a life alone in a cage is a stark contrast to a life in the wild.
African grey parrots sold into the pet trade originate from West Africa to Congo. While the parrot you see for sale online or in the pet shop may have been born in captivity, its parents or grandparents will have been caught or captured from the wild. Offspring of wild animals are still wild animals and retain their natural instincts and needs.
Despite this, over half of Canadians believe birds are acceptable pets. And they would be forgiven for thinking so with the pet industry providing little information about their unique needs, complex behaviors and the high level of care required to look after these animals.
With a lifespan of more than 60 years, parrots can easily outlive their owners and it is common for them to be rehomed repeatedly in their lifetime. Their highly socialized nature means that when they are alone in a cage, they can suffer from isolation and boredom often resorting to feather plucking, self-mutilation and constant screaming. This difficult behavior leads many owners to surrender their parrot, continuing the cycle of pain for these animals.
Dr. Alix Wilson, an exotic pet veterinarian, cares for exotic animals, and told us about her experience treating parrots:
“I see badly cared for birds every single day. But every day I see birds whose owners love them dearly but aren’t taking proper care of them. They simply don’t know what they are taking on. And every day we are called by people who are wanting to rehome their birds.”
African grey parrots are among the most popular bird species kept in Europe, the USA and the Middle East. With many bird sanctuaries already at capacity, countless parrots are at risk of a life of suffering in captivity.
 World Animal Protection Brand Tracking, 2018.
What you can do
Consider adopting a domesticated pet instead of buying a wild animal. Even if an animal is sold in a pet shop, it doesn’t mean an animal is domesticated. We encourage everyone to appreciate and respect wild animals where they belong – in the wild.
Join our pledge to commit to keeping wild animals in the wild
Take action against the wildlife pet trade today by signing the pledge to never buy an exotic animal. Help us protect wildlife by keeping them where they belong. In the wild.