WILD VS DOMESTIC
There has been great debate over when an animal is considered wild and when an animal is seen as domestic. Many people are confused by the matter or just do not have the correct information on hand. Recently, I saw a steady stream of negative comments regarding the owning of exotic animals because many believe that it is cruel and potentially harmful towards the owner and the pet to own a wild animal. While we do agree it would be much riskier to own a wild animal, in the case of domestic pet foxes born in captivity that you see in many states today, these are not wild animals. In this article, we will go more in depth into the terms wild, tame, and domestic in the hopes to clear up some of this mass confusion.
The term wild refers to an animal that lives in its natural habitat, free from human influence. For example, the lions that live in sub-Saharan Africa or the Macaws of the Amazon Rainforest would both be considered wild as they do not rely on humans to survive. They could even possibly go their entire lives without coming into contact with a person. Due to these facts, any animal like the Macaw or Lion would fall into the wild category. Wild animals can be dangerous and should never be considered as a possible pet option for anyone unless you are well qualified or it is for rehabilitation purposes. That being said many may say Macaws are just birds they aren’t dangerous and while a wild Macaw may not be nearly as dangerous as a lion, they would still be considered wild due to their life free from human interference.
There are many different types of animals in the wild, each with different nutritional requirements and characteristics, thus resulting in various threat levels. A lion is much more threatening than a macaw but both, in this example, are wild. Even the smallest threat level of a wild animal should be met with caution. Since wild animals live free from the influence of humans they are unpredictable. If they do not eat you from survival instincts because you are food and they are hungry, then a much smaller less dangerous wild animal could harm you from fear of being injured itself. It may be only protecting its nest, or you may even negatively influence the animal thus resulting in it becoming easier prey or dependent on humans. The fox that lives in the field or forest across from your home is a wild fox just like the macaw and lion. It will thrive in its natural environment and survive; it doesn’t need a human to help it. Taking a wild fox from the outdoors and trying to make it a pet when it has already lived one way for many years will only confuse and terrify it. You will likely be harmed, as well, due to the unpredictability of a wild animal and its natural instinct to survive.
Now let’s say you rescued that same Macaw from the Amazon because it was injured and you wanted to rehabilitate it. Although not always the case, this rehabilitation, if done incorrectly, would likely leave a negative effect on the Macaw thus weakening its natural survival instincts. The Macaw may even grow very trusting of you since it sees you as its source of survival, so you decide to keep it in fear of it possibly dying if returned to the wild. You would now be taming this animal. The term taming refers to something you do to an individual wild animal not an entire species or population of animals. For example, many bears and elephants are tamed to perform tricks, but they would only be considered a tame wild animal, not a domesticated one. The process of taming changes the wild animal’s behavior either through force or reward.
The term domestic refers to an animal that lives with people and greatly depends on human influence, for survival. Now you’re saying but what sets a domestic animal apart from a tame one? Well, Domestication is a genetic process of an entire species. For example, a dog is the result of many thousands of years of selectively breeding wolves for certain qualities and temperament. If you were to take a wolf from the wild today and train it, you would then have a tame wild wolf, but if you selectively bred wolves for many years, which in turn changed their genetics and temperament, you would then have a domesticated dog. Taming only modifies the behavior of one animal while domestication modifies the genetics of a particular portion of an entire species.
A domesticated animal that is under some scrutiny right now is the domestic pet fox. You may be confused as to how the domestic pet fox is considered domesticated, and I know many people question this. They think the pet foxes you see today are no more than tame wild animals. However, as we mentioned above, domestication is a process that modifies the genetics of an animal. The genetics in foxes started to change due to the fur industry. The fur industry wanted different colors of furs to sell which resulted in the color changes we now see in many pet foxes but would never exist in a wild fox. This process changed the genetics of the captive born fox. Currently, many USDA-licensed pet fox breeders have been selectively breeding pet foxes which will result in the pet fox becoming more and more domesticated as the generations continue. Now, of course, the pet fox we see today is nowhere near being as domesticated as the average dog but it is none the less on its way.
We have to view domestication in a range of states not just as a single flip of a switch. When we see an animal simply as either fully domesticated or not that is what is creating the mass confusion. If a dog is considered fully domesticated, then we can assume a fox is more at the beginning of the process but it is still in the process. It has been genetically altered, is being selectively bred, and is heavily influenced by humans. All of which could affect its ability to survive in the wild if ever placed into the wild, which we have to remember the pet foxes in question are born in captivity along with their parents, grandparents, and so on. These foxes have never lived in the wild; yet, I see a lot of comments saying “release the fox back into the wild” or “let it be free.” While this is true for wild foxes, captive born pet foxes wouldn’t be being released back into the wild. The wild would be a whole new and potentially life threatening place for a captive born fox. So by wanting to protect foxes and not understanding the differences between wild and domestic, some people are making statements that could kill the fox they love so much.
Imagine you were raised in a loving home until about the age of 5 and then dumped into the forest so you could “be free” what do you think your chances of survival would be? Humans have and could very easily survive in the wild if equipped for it. For human generations now, that are used to living in safe houses and away from threats; you can bet you’d meet your fate within a few short hours. You’d probably be hit by a fast moving vehicle, attacked by a hungry predator, or just die from starvation, exposure, or the lack of knowledge to save your life. Death would likely occur because you would be out of your element in which you had grown accustomed to, thus rendering you helpless and unprepared.
As we continue to discuss domestication, let’s be fair not to try and compare a dog to a fox, in which animal is better, as dogs have had a significant head start in the domestication process. DNA evidence suggests that dogs were domesticated thousands of years ago and in possibly two separate areas, Europe and Asia. It is believed by many that hunters would find wolf pups then tame them to be defenders, companions, and fellow hunters.
Domesticated animals of certain types even domesticated foxes can be trained and can make wonderful pets for the right dedicated, responsible, informed person. With this being said, the larger the animal, the greater the threat whether it be domestic, wild or tamed. Even the smaller common domestic pets can cause damage. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been attacked by a cat, however; my pet fox has never attacked me. Each animal has its separate personality and is molded by its environment. If this is a positive atmosphere and the animal displays a calm nature, then positive results can be expected. You can assume the opposite for a negative environment.
There is also a responsibility of the pet owner to be able to read their pet and know when they do not wish to be bothered. Forcing any pet to do anything which then results in the owner being harmed is the owners fault not at all the pets. The stupidity or carelessness of any owner cannot be seen as a fault of the pet. An animal will usually warn you, or you can tell by their change in attitude or body language, failing to listen equals your mistake. I’ve seen some comments about foxes biting people. In my personal experience if you put your face in the face of any animal, whether it be a dog or a fox, you are taking a chance. I do kiss my fox but only when he is in a good mood but I wouldn’t advise others to do so. It would also be careless of me to put my face in his when he is upset. Even when he’s happy I am still taking a chance as he could play bite and still cause damage. Accept responsibility for your actions and if the result is negative, scold yourself not the species as you made a poor decision and knew the consequences.
This is a good rule to have for any animal. Most people assume dogs are friendlier than foxes and make better pets just because they are more familiar with the concept of owning a dog as a pet. Pet foxes are still somewhat taboo to most people but how many cases of dog attacks have you seen in the news? I bet it to be more than a few. Many people have died from dog attacks, yet I have not heard of one death involving a fox. That’s not to say that it wouldn’t ever be possible, but when you think about it in this aspect which animal is more harmful?
I think a common misconception with the word domestic or tame is the feeling or expectation that that term means safe. Just because an animal is a domestic animal does not mean that that animal is 100% docile and will not harm another animal or person. Every animal has a distinctive personality and temperament. It is your job as a pet owner to learn their nature and adjust accordingly. In the same aspect just because an animal is a less common domestic animal or an exotic animal, it doesn’t mean that that animal is going to be more aggressive or more likely to attack a person or another animal. You may adopt a common domestic cat one day that is completely insane, no matter how much attention and care are given, but from this one cat, you wouldn’t judge the entire species of domestic cats. The same can be said about foxes, much of the success rate for pet foxes depends on the owner themselves, not the animal.
Every species of animal, ever to exist on this earth, started as a wild species. Many species stayed wild while others evolved over many years of human influence and became domesticated. Domestication does not have to include the entire species just a portion of that particular species. As you can see today, wild foxes still exist in nature but then a part of that species, of which most were saved from the fur industry, have started to become domesticated and kept as exotic pets. The key is knowing the fundamental differences between wild and domestic. I hope this article helped with your understanding of these terms. If there’s one thing I believe we can all agree upon; wherever there are humans, there will forever be the need for animal companions.
Good luck in all your future fox endeavors.