Okay guys, a while ago I made a post about my thoughts on the misuse of the words ‘wild’ and ‘tame’. I decided to redo that and here you go;
‘Domestic’, ‘Wild’, ‘Tame’? – What do these words mean?
Every time an animal rights activist makes a statement attacking exotic animal owners, you often hear the same words being mentioned over and over again; ‘Tame’, ‘Domestic’, ‘Wild’. This is because the general public tends not to know the exact definition of these words and so AR groups capitalise on this and lead people to believe the simplistic meanings they have attached to the words. They then use them as inflammatory words, evoking emotion, rather than logic, in their listeners. As a biologist, I will start by explaining the word ‘Domestic’ as that is the one word that has a scientific basis.
The word ‘Domestic’ describes animals that have been domesticated. The process of domestication is fairly simple and straightforward; it does not take thousands of years as some people would have you believe. The process simply involves breeding several animals of the desired species, picking the offspring that are most friendly to humans, breeding them, and repeating this until you get the desired results. It’s human-influenced selection as opposed to natural selection. Granted, this process can last for a couple decades but the domestication of Russian foxes[i] shows us that the process need not take more than 50 years.
Now, what is often done in the media and by AR groups is that, the words ‘domestic’ and ‘tame’ are used interchangeably. This is a problem due to the fact that, as I have just said, ‘domestic’ has a scientific, quantifiable meaning. In comparison, ‘Tame’ does not have an exact meaning and therefore can be thrown around subjectively. Generally, the term ‘Tame’ is used to mean ‘not wild’, which brings us to the last term, and the one that I think is the most grossly misused; ‘Wild’. This term can be used as both a noun and an adjective and both uses are wielded as swords by the AR groups, media, and other misinformed individuals. I will first tackle its use as a noun.
Probably the most common sentence spoken by people who oppose exotic animal ownership is “These animals belong in ‘the Wild’!!” Well, what is ‘the Wild’, anyways? I will choose to interpret it as land untouched by humans. Unfortunately, there is less and less of that available. Of course, we should be acting to stop that but there’s only so much we can do. Personally, I think ‘the Wild’ is becoming somewhat of a myth. In addition to that, It is strange how people are convinced that ‘the Wild’ is this magical, happy place. It is most definitely not. The average animal will spend its short life constantly looking over its shoulder for predators or rivals, constantly worrying about getting enough food and water, and finally dying a most likely, very painful death due to disease, starvation, or being ripped apart by a predator or rival. There is no chance to enjoy the freedom that AR activists tout as being vital to an animal’s happiness.
Used as an adjective, ‘Wild’ is applied like a stamp, marking certain types of animals as being impossible for a human to have a relationship with. Well, that would suggest that these same animals are also impossible to domesticate which is disproven by the aforementioned Russian fox breeding project. The only difference between animals that are domesticated, and animals that are not, is the inherent friendliness towards humans that is shown by the domesticated animals. This does not mean that it is impossible to form a good relationship with a non-domesticated animal, but simply that it is more challenging.
In conclusion, the three words that are the subject of this article are words that unfortunately, have been badly misused for a long time and are really at the root of the misconceptions about exotic animal ownership. If the public’s knowledge of these words and their definitions can be corrected, then it should be fairly easy to convince them that exotic ownership is just as valid as ownership of domestic dogs and cats.
[i] In 1959, Dmitri Belyaev started a breeding project at the Institute of Cytology and Genetics at Novosibirsk. It continues today. The project was to selectively breed foxes in the hopes of getting a fur animal that was easier to handle. Unfortunately, the objectives had to change as the domestication process caused the majority of the foxes to lose their solid colour and show spots, which is not desired in the fur industry.