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. 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.
Wild (exotic) animals vs domesticated animals
The terminology around the classification of animals is highly confusing. Terms like wild, domesticated and exotic are often used interchangeably and, adding to the confusion, our laws and regulations use a variety of inconsistent definitions to describe the origin of an animal. Classifying wild animals as domesticated can lead to great suffering because wild animals belong in the wild, not in our homes.
For guidance and clarification purposes, below are explanations of the different terms:
Domesticated animal – applies to a group of animals (a single animal cannot be domesticated) who have been selectively bred over thousands of years for specific traits, affecting biological, behavioural and genetic processes, that make the animals in the group better-suited for living alongside humans. Dogs, cats, horses and cattle are all examples of domesticated animals.
Domestic animal – animals who are kept in captivity by humans regardless if the animal is wild, tame, domesticated, etc.; is not an indication of the suitability of an animal to live in captivity. For example, a tiger kept as a pet is a domestic animal, however they are still very susceptible to tremendous suffering because tigers are not domesticated but wild animals.
Wild animal – belong to a group of animals who have never been domesticated. Wild animals live and breed in their natural environment without human interference. When bred in captivity, their behaviour might alter due to being in close proximity with humans, however they remain wild, having similar traits (behaviours and psychological needs) as their wild counterparts. For example, a captive bred Ball python is still a wild animal, they do not meet domestication criteria as described above and their behaviours and psychological needs are still identical to their ancestors/conspecifics.
Exotic animal – can be a wild or domesticated animal not native to a certain geographical region. For example, Grizzly bears are wild animals not native to Ontario and can therefore be considered as an exotic wild animal to the province. Llama’s on the other hand are a domesticated species exotic to Ontario and can therefore be classified as an exotic domesticated animal.
Tame animal – is a wild animal forced to live with humans, who may change their behaviour due to the close proximity with humans. For example, a healthy turkey vulture in the wild would not allow physical contact with a human, however once kept in captivity they can learn to tolerate physical contact.
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. 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.
Domesticated animals, with the right care and conditions, are able to live with humans in captivity without suffering. In general, it is “easier” to take care of domesticated animals since they are able to live in similar conditions as to which humans live. For example, the room temperature we find comfortable is often also comfortable to a dog or a cat.
Exotic animals are most often wild animals
According to our research, Canada is home to 1.4 million exotic pets. Snakes, parrots, geckos, turtles, foxes, sugar gliders, scorpions and even tigers are just some of the wild exotic animals kept in Canadian homes.
Wild animals have not co-evolved with humans. Which means that these animals cannot thrive in a home-setting. Instead these animals require an environment that replicates their wild habitat which is almost impossible to do. The freedom and array of choices an animal has in the wild simply cannot be provided in a captive setting. For example, Ball pythons live in a wide range of habitats, during the day they hide in burrows but at night they will leave their shelter to go hunt or find a mate. In a home environment, Ball pythons are restricted to enclosures, with only one type of habitat, they are often kept solitary and do not have a choice what to eat and when. In addition, like most snakes, they are often kept in undersized enclosures, restricting basic body movements like stretching their full body.
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. They will be usually packed into small containers or crates for transportation purposes, in some instances not even able to breathe or move. Investigations by us and other organizations have found that mortality rates in the exotic pet supply chain are horrifically high, for example up to 66% of African grey parrots who have been poached from the wild for the exotic pet trade will die in transit.
Exotic wild animals bred in captivity are still wild animals
A wild animal that is bred in captivity doesn’t stop being wild and is not more suitable to live a life in captivity. We found that a majority of Canadians are against the exotic pet industry using wild caught animals for the trade, however the exotic animal breeding industry causes its own set of distinct problems for the animals trapped within them.
Captive bred wild exotic animals are bred in volume and in unnatural circumstances. Unhealthy breeding practices, like inbreeding, are used to create animals with preferential traits and colours (known as morphs), which can have severe welfare implications. This is particularly common in snakes and other reptiles as buyers increasingly want genetically altered versions of animals that bear little resemblance to their wild counterparts. In Canada, there is little regulatory oversight on breeding practices, allowing breeders to operate as they wish.
Tamed animals are still wild animals
Some wild animals born in captivity or captured in the wild 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.
The easiest way to recognize a wild animal? Whenever an animal cannot naturally cohabit the space you live in but instead requires specialized housing (e.g., live in a terrarium), climate conditions (e.g., temperature and humidity) or behaviours (e.g., digging, swimming, etc.) there is a significantly high likelihood that this animal is wild.
 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.
 McGowan, P., 2001, CITES Review of Significant Trade 2006, Birdlife International 2015, CITES 2013 Available from: https://cites.org/sites/default/files/eng/cop/17/prop/GAPsittacus_erithacus_EN.pdf [Accessed 24 Jan 2019]
African grey parrots are incredible animals. They are highly social and are known to fly several kilometers each day to forage for food. They are among the most popular bird species kept in Europe, the USA and the Middle East.
A life alone in a cage is a stark contrast to life in the wild.
Wild African grey parrots live in Western and Central Africa. African grey parrots, like any other parrot you see for sale online or in the pet shop are wild animals. While they may have been born in captivity, their parents or grandparents have been caught from the wild. Offspring of wild animals are still wild animals and retain their natural instincts and needs.
Despite the wild nature of parrots, over half of Canadians believe this family of birds are acceptable pets. They would be forgiven for thinking this because the pet industry provides little information about their unique needs, complex behaviours and the high level of care required to look after these animals.
With a lifespan of over 60 years, parrots can easily outlive their owners. Because of their long lifespan and wild nature, it is common for parrots to be rehomed repeatedly during their lifetime. Their highly socialized nature means that when they are alone in a cage, they will suffer from isolation and boredom often resorting to plucking their feathers out of their body (also known as self-mutilating behaviours) and constant screaming. This difficult behaviour leads many owners to surrender their parrot. With many bird sanctuaries already at capacity, countless parrots are at risk of a life of suffering in captivity.
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.
Consider adopting a domesticated pet instead of buying a wild animal. Even if an exotic wild animal is sold in a pet shop, it doesn’t mean the animal is domesticated or suitable as pet. We encourage everyone to appreciate 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 wild animal. Help us protect wildlife by keeping them where they belong. In the wild.