Are reintroduced animals wild?

I was identifying records and came across this record of a bucket of baby sea turtles about to be released from what was obviously a captive hatching.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32215995

Should these records be regarded as wild? Made me start thinking about hacked birds, replanted trees, etc.

I guess the answer is yes, but I wonder what others think.

Are the tree seedlings in a nursery considered “cultivated” before they are planted? Do they then become introduced or wild after planting?
Is there a category for reintroduced/reestablished individuals?

Chris

I assume you can find an observation field (more likely 10 different duplicated ones) to mark a record as reintroduced, but there is no formal designation.

Reintroduced animals are considered wild, assuming they are free to move about and survive on their own. From the help pages under what is considered wild ‘a species that had been introduced to a new region (such as a country) but has established a population outside of human care’.

Human planted plants are considered cultivated through their entire lifecycle. From the same source under what is cultivated ‘tree planted 1, 10, or 100 years ago by humans’

https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help#captive

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Generally speaking, one should not mark an unidentified observation as captive/cultivated, because that changes it from “Needs ID” to “Casual”, where it is much less likely to be identified. This is due to (what can be viewed as) a flaw in the design of the site. After an observation has reached “Research Grade” is the time to debate whether it counts as wild or not.

One exception is cultivars which are basically non-existent in the wild. Often these are ornamental plants. These are essentially unidentifiable to naturalists (though a florist could certainly do it), so removing it from “Needs ID” makes identification more efficient for naturalists. I suspect handling cases like this is one of the original reasons the wild/not-wild distinction was added to the DQA section.

In this specific case, the observation is at or near the moment when the baby turtles transition from captive to wild (possibly introduced), so you could go either way. It should also be noted that the eggs were probably laid by a wild turtle, and only temporarily “captured” for safekeeping. If it’s known that they’re being released on the same beach where they were captured, I would be inclined to leave the observations as wild, since it documents a location where real wild activity happened. If not, then it’s still a grey area, since you won’t be able to know for a while whether the turtles will return to lay eggs on that beach. But again, if you’re going to mark it captive, wait until the community can identify the turtles.

By the strict definition, planted trees are considered cultivated, in the same way that crop plants in a field or trees in an orchard are. However, if it looks like they could be identified, you shouldn’t remove them from the “Needs ID” list right away. In the past I have been overzealous in marking unidentified trees in cities and city parks as captive/cultivated, when they could easily have been identified by local naturalists. I regret this now. So, try to learn from my mistake, and be cautious about marking (unidentified) things as non-wild.

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I’d say that if the species is living freely in an area, it can be considered “wild”. If it’s a bucket of individuals about to be introduced, then they are not wild just yet. If they encounter one that has survived and is now living wild and free, then that’s the “wild” encounter. I could even go as far as saying this can work for introduced species too. For example, in my university (UNALM) there are a few artificial ponds with fish, some ornamental. They have adapted to live there and reproduce and, until a few years ago, they could travel around when they flooded the gardens to water them. I would consider them “wild”.

I think your example is different than a planted tree, which I mark as cultivated. The tree didn’t choose to be there.

Most young sea turtle reintroductions are done at the same beach where the eggs were laid. Therefore, turtles are naturally present at that beach. It’s a good question for someone to decide on.

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Here’s an example of my own, from a reintroduction effort I was involved in:

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/22219133

Is this River Otter wild? Ten minutes earlier he was in a holding pen on the bank of the river but now he’s free. I consider him “newly wild” – or more accurately back in the wild, since he was captured from a wild population – but an argument could be made that this record should be casual since it is practically a captive situation. I submitted the record mainly to document the starting point of wild reintroduced otters in this river system.

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I still don’t understand how a captive animal can become a wild animal after it is released but a cultivated tree will always be a cultivated tree. Once the tree is planted and it receives no further human intervention… if it survives, why shouldn’t it be considered wild also?

Using those sea turtles as an example, some of those eggs may never have survived without human intervention, so in the scheme of things they had the same human help as a tree did.

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We do a lot of work with black footed ferrets at my job. We have an established population that started with ~25 captive bred animals (after a population bottle neck that left us with only 8 breeding individuals in the world, all current BFF populations started with captive bred animals). Every year we spend three weeks trapping ferrets to give each kit that was born that year a microchip and administer vaccines for distemper, plague, and rabies. This is obviously a HIGHLY managed species, and it would, without a doubt, be extinct if it weren’t for a captive breeding program. However, I would still consider these animals as wild. While we put a considerable amount of effort and resources in order to increase their chances of survival, they are far from living in a cage at a zoo. They are subject to predation (once we watched an owl take off with one), they have to hunt for their own food, find and compete for their own mates, raise their own young, and establish their own territory.

I would say the same thing for the turtle release. While they may be a product of a captive breeding program, once these turtles are “dumped” out onto the beach, they are essentially on their own, subject to the same environmental pressures as other wild animals. They aren’t being kept in a hermetically sealed chamber, having all their needs met by human caretakers.

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The distinction is tenuous for sure. But it has to do with whether the present location of the organism is the direct result of human intervention. Things like feral horses (in North America) and most invasive weeds are present indirectly because of past human activity, but occupy their present locations due to a predominance of factors other than direct human intervention. They are considered wild.

Throw a human-made enclosure around some of those horses, and they again become captive, as their current locations are now controlled primarily by human intervention. Release them from that enclosure, and other factors regain primary control and they are again wild (though still introduced non-natives).

For an individual planted tree, its location will always be the direct result of human intervention. The locations of its offspring, on the other hand, will generally be an indirect result, much like any other introduced population, maybe just fewer generations removed from their origin.

There are gray areas for sure. Like remnant alfalfa plants within the boundaries of a formerly cultivated but long abandoned field. There is no shortage of debate about such gray areas in existing topics elsewhere in the forum, though, so no need to rehash here. :wink:

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Perhaps there’s just a perceptual difference here as well—the tree is stuck where the human planted it, whereas an animal can move away after release. It’s easier to consider the animal ‘wild’ because it can now choose where to go. The planted tree clearly does a whole lot of things after the human intervention as well, but they’re not as quick or as obvious. So maybe ‘location’ isn’t everything?

I also think there’s room for a distinction with respect to the origin of a released animal. If it was originally wild, was captured for some reason (tagging, sampling, vet treatment, translocation), and was then released, I would consider it to be wild again after release.

However, as noted by @zachs, there’s also the situation where animals are bred in captivity and released. I work in one such programme too (a bird called the shore plover, also intensively managed), and I have a different take. A bird we release wouldn’t exist without the captive-breeding programme and it wouldn’t end up where it does without a lot of human intervention. Once released, I realise it has to cope with the world around it (in fact many don’t), but that doesn’t necessarily make it wild. I see that bird as free, rather than wild. When it breeds in the wild however, its offspring are definitely wild. I think that’s more than just semantics, at least in the case of shore plover—the distinction is reinforced for me by the fact we see a clear difference between survival of our captive-bred/released plovers (low) and those hatched in the wild (high).

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I like the term “free” as opposed to wild. I think breeding programs are very important, just iNat’s definition of human intervention is still human intervention.

With the tree, it still has to adjust to weather, drought, flood, disease etc. Maybe cultivated needs to be changed to introduced, as cultivated by definition means someone is taking care of it, which may not be the case.

Sorry @jdmore, I know this subject has been rehashed many times over. I think the literal definition of words is what adds to the confusion of what iNat is trying to infer.

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If there is a gradient from a Budgerigar in a cage in a home to a wild flock of Budgerigars flying around in Australia, I would consider a Budgerigar flying around free here in Canada to be closer to the one in the cage. It’s not part of a viable population (it clearly came out of someone’s house), it can’t breed, and it can’t survive on its own because of the winter. But not too far south of us in the US, there are populations of Monk Parakeets which do make it through the winter. Then a Monk Parakeet in exactly the same situation as the Budgerigar is a bit more complicated.
I feel like for consistency between taxa, if an organism was initially in “captivity” and then “released”, it should remain “not wild” throughout its life, and its offspring all count as wild, but that might not really be practical…
Perhaps ratings or a grey area as suggested here would be the best option?

I would interpret that quote from the help page to mean that individuals in a population descended from reintroduced individuals would count as wild, but it’s unclear about the original reintroduced individuals.

I would consider those wild, because they aren’t currently being cared for by humans.

When my parents were building their house, they chose to position the house in such a way that they would not need to cut down the existing wild live oaks. While they weren’t human-planted, they currently benefit from being on the lot now (lawn watering, weeding around them, pruning dead limbs to protect people and structures, protected from some of the larger foraging animals by fencing, etc) so I consider those cultivated, though the only thing separating them from the rest of the wild growth is a few inches and a chain link fence.

I know from a discussion on an observation where a city park was similarly built up around existing trees that there are others who would consider those still wild.

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@zachs – Having some recent experience with Black-footed Ferret reintroduction myself, I can relate to what you’re describing. To me, ferrets are something of a special case. Most of the reintroductions are from captive-reared stock although there is also reproduction in the wild. The species is highly vulnerable to sylvatic plague – both in terms of ferrets being susceptible and their prey, prairie dogs, being especially vulnerable. Managing these reintroduced populations is “heavy-handed” in that wild-born kits have to be trapped if possible and vaccinated against diseases. The prairie dog colony on which the ferrets depend has to be managed for plague through flea control or inoculation of the prairie dogs with edible vaccine baits on an annual basis. Although the ferrets on the ground are wild – they hunt, establish territories, disperse to new locations, mate and have young, get predated, etc. – their wild existence is continuously propped up via human intervention. So, although not captive, they do need humans to persist – much the way any captive population of animals would. .

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This is a question I wonder about, too, particularly with regards to roadside plantings. For example, the grass Festuca valesiaca is planted on roadsides in dry parts of Oregon (e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32344603). This photographed population has been here for a couple decades, maybe more. The even spacing of the clumps looks unnatural, but actually that’s the most nature thing about ut. The species was no doubt broadcast seeded, and the even spacing is due to competition and death of seedlings that were too close together for both to survive. The individual plants are potentially very long-lived – we have records of 60+ year old individuals in a related species. (Probably they can be an order of magnitude older, but data are hard to find.) The species produces seeds and in some places the populations are slowly spreading off the roadside, so I know it can reproduce in the wild.

I can’t look at any individual and say whether it’s a survivor of the original seeding or a new plant that grew up from seed of an established plant, though I know the population originated from a planting. I think it’s better to record this observation as wild. (And at least theoretically all or most of these individuals could be wild, though I doubt it.) At least labeling these as wild helps date users understand how this species got to the area (where no doubt it will spread further). However, it’s possible that all of these individual plants were planted by our Department of Transportation. To me, this falls into that gray area of “is it wild?”

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Humans are the ones that directly caused the near extinction of animals like ferrets through our destruction of their habitat (eliminating and fragmenting prairie dog colonies) and introducing exotic diseases like sylvatic plague. In one sense, humans are, and have been, influencing or “managing” animal populations in one direction or another whether it is intentional or not. Does “intentional” human intervention that has a direct effect on species survival (either positive or negative) somehow make that species less “wild” than unintentional intervention? After all, the outcome is the same: human action having an effect on animal (or plant) populations, or even individual survival.

Then throw in the added argument of humans being a part of nature rather than being outside it. If we are accept that this is the case, our influence and intervention on other species is no less natural than any other animal/species having an effect on another, whether it’s an increase of the coyote population negatively impacting the population of cottontails, or a beaver building a pond and therefore creating habitat for and increasing the population of Ute ladies tresses orchids.

The entire question of “wild vs. non wild” is probably more a philosophical one than biological one.

P.S. in my example of ferrets at the National Wildlife Refuge that I work at, the reintroduction took place in 2015, all subsequent ferrets were born in the natural environment (“wild born”) rather than at the captive breeding center.

I agree. The default assumption for a new observation on iNaturalist is that it is wild, until someone marks it otherwise. So I tend to give the same benefit of the doubt when I can’t definitively say that a specific individual was planted.

Quite so. And yet there is well-established desire in the iNaturalist community (including its founders) to be able to filter out observations like potted plants or zoo animals, to use the extremes of what the “captive/cultivated” flag was designed for. In my opinion, we should continue to mark the obvious extremes, and otherwise exercise benefit of the doubt when reasonable doubt exists.

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I agree. I will say, though, that a third option of “gray area” would allow those that only want to filter out the extremes from either end the ability to do so. For example, those that only want to filter out the zoo animal end of the spectrum would exclude “captive” OR include both “wild” and “gray area”. Those that want only the actively cultivated plants (as opposed to the recently spawned weedy seedlings) would filter for captive (or exclude wild and “gray area” cases).

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As a way to avoid wars in the DQA section of an ambiguous observation, I could see that being useful. But in terms of filtering observations, I am already going to be scrutinizing gray-area cases for my purposes, whether or not someone else has marked them as such. So I’m not convinced it would be worth it for folks to spend their time marking gray-area cases.

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If it were applied with a degree of consistancy it might reduce the amount of observations that need checking. In some ways though, there is already a “gray area” designation, assuming we can get access by query to the vote count each way. Anything that has votes both ways would be considered “gray area”. The problem is that having only two options, if someone sees a dissenting vote to their own, they could be influenced to flip their own position to conform with the majority, in which case we lose the “gray area” determinant