Captive, but captured nearby?

I’ve come across many observations of trafficked wildlife from the Amazon, but I started wondering when should an animal be considered as captive on this site. If we’re talking about a zoo, rescue center, or any other institution with legally or illegally captive wildlife, then the observation is obviously casual and the shouldn’t be RG.

What I’m wondering now, however, is what if we’re talking about a wild animal that was captured by the locals. The species is definitely located in the area, but the animal wasn’t found “in the wild”. Many communities capture wildlife for tourists to take photos of, which is a considerable source of income for them. This is something we’re trying to stop, as it promotes wildlife trafficking for wildlife selfie tourism, but are some of these animals “captive”, or not?

Look at this anaconda:, it is definitely captive, as it’s in an open area of grass (hard to find in the rainforest, unless we’re talking about a community or other location with people, who actually maintain and cut the grass). Looking at other observations form the area of that same user (, most of the mammals and some reptiles are captive, but I’d bet they were captured nearby. This means that the animals are present in the area. One thing I love about iNat is that it helps to better map species presence/distribution thanks to citizen scientists, so I’m wondering if these kind of observations should be marked as captive or not.

Note: I’m not talking about baited individuals.

When I was in the Amazon in a village I saw a boat with a dead Spotted Paca and some fish in it. I posted photos on iNat but I marked the locations as inaccurate because they definitely weren’t caught in the village, and I have no idea how far away from the village they were caught to make a precision circle. However, they could still be useful observations.
This might be a similar situation - those individuals (parrots and monkeys, I have no idea about the Anaconda) are definitely captive, and definitely not in the location where they were in the wild, so at least one of those should be marked, but that doesn’t mean the observations should be discounted just because they become “casual”.

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This is similar to questions that have been raised in the past:

There is a lot of disagreement over the subject, but as someone working in the conservation field in an area with heavy poaching, my own opinion is that if the organism is known to be from nearby and that it was recently taken from the wild (eg, for sale in a market vs in a pot at someone’s house, even if they’re originally from the same area in either case) it should be marked as “wild”, but a note should be included in the description that it was recently taken or poached.

As an aside, with the Anaconda observation, it’s worth noting that they’re found in waterways in grasslands as well (especially in Bolivia and Brazil) and that they will sometimes come up into areas that may have been cleared near residences and such. I’m not saying that this is the case with this observation, but the presence of grass in-and-of itself is not an indicator of captivity for Anacondas.

In the case if this person’s other observations, particularly of the primates, the coati, and the Mealy Parrot I’d mark them as “captive”. The behavior seen and location (especially of the Spider Monkey, White-bellied Spider Monkey, and Wooly Monkey) are indicative of a lot of time spent in captivity, not a recent capture. The Large Headed Capuchin could be either, I’ve often seen wild ones in similar settings as they come in to raid for food, but in the context of the location and the other observations it’s likely also captive.

I think that the specific example you raise with this user highlights the need for context in making a decision whether to mark as “captive” or “wild”, but context is often difficult to establish from just a single photo.


There’s an interesting relevant discussion on this (when it’s reasonably presumed to be transported by natural means) in this thread

Echoing earthknight’s comment above, there’s a lot of disagreement but I would also mark such cases as “wild” due to the urgency surrounding poaching.

In my opinion, the issue is not strictly about whether it’s “wild” or “captive”, but the fact that the “casual” marking makes them less searchable and excludes them from being exported to GBIF. Lumping this valuable data with casuals also means grouping them together with genuinely bad/unusable observations. We’ve also noticed that casual observations are often neglected, so many of them are not even identified properly.

As another example, I rear caterpillars I find in my garden. Someone argued that by bringing them inside (“captive”), I protect the caterpillars from predation (and even changing their behavior), which I totally agree with. But at the same time, I’d say that my observations still show their seasonality and natural range, since I only move them less than 10 meters from where I find them. Also, I don’t think that moving my caterpillars indoors skew the distribution range more than planting new, foreign host plants and “naturally” attracting foreign caterpillars—even though the foreign caterpillars, in this case, would be “wild” under iNat’s standard.

In addition, I live in an area where moths are rarely studied. Some of my photos might be the first evidence of their full life cycle to be published online. I think it would be a loss of important data if we exclude such observations from the privilege that RG entries get.


I agree that these observations certainly have value, but I would argue for marking them captive for several reasons:

  1. They fit the clear/plain language definition of captive, ie an animal in captivity that has been transported from its original location by humans. I think you’ll get a fair amount of folks on iNat marking them as such.

  2. In some cases, marking them as captive may actually be helpful. For instance, if someone on iNat is searching for captive animals in tourist areas near rainforest, searching observations that are marked “captive” is an obvious way to do that.

  3. Some of the criteria discussed above are very subjective (trying to judge whether organisms are recent/long term captures based on a photo) and there’s no clear and consistent way to make this judgment across multiple observers.

  4. The case of RG observations being exported to GBIF was mentioned, and I think that this is a case where there is a clear downside to marking observations like these as wild and very little upside. As someone who has used GBIF, trying to find these specific observations on GBIF to study poaching would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. There’s no clear way to pull out observations of captive animals. You would almost certainly need to see the original observation on iNat to make that determination.

On the other hand, many use cases for data from GBIF are for range determination, species modeling, or conservation assessments. These uses rely on bulk data processing, and users will not be able to check by hand the thousands (or even millions) of datapoints they are using (unless they are obviously wrong, like in an ocean when a terrestrial animal). In these situations, a few inaccurate points could lead to erroneous conclusions for range or habitat assessments. For instance, if observations from captive animas inside towns or villages are used in a distribution model, the resulting model may consider the animals to do well/better in urban areas. This could lead to an overestimation of the species suitable habitat or range which could obscure its more restricted habitat requirements or range. This could have negative impacts on conservation assessments. This issue could be exacerbated with species for which there are few total observations, which weights each one more.

I agree that marking them as captive makes them harder to get feedback on on iNat, but I don’t think that this negative outweighs the other issues in this scenario. A couple of solutions might be to add a large location precision circle and explain in the description (to account for the fact that the location of capture is not known), or to make an observation field or project for these types of observations that pulls them together or makes them searchable if you are interested in working with them.


Just to be clear, it does not exclude them, GBIF has chosen not to take them. It is an important distinction.


I would say that if an animal has been captured (or a plant collected) somewhere but it is photographed somewhere else where it is now in captivity/cultivation, the observation could still be wildif: 1) the position is that of the place where the organism has been captured/collected (requirement ofcorrect position); 2) the species is still present where it has been captured/collected (requirement of recent presence of the species in the given area), that is organism is not the last one living where it is has been captired/collected.

This would be the situation with a rehab animal. It could be posted to iNat either in its current location at the rehab centre and marked as captive, or in the location it was originally found and with the time and date corrected to be when it was originally found.


Fair points!

And what do you think about observations in hunting camps? I’ve worked with hunters for a while and have seen either skulls of hunted animals near the area, the dead animals themselves, or sometimes even a recently captured juvenile.

Recently hunted:
Recently captured juvenile:
Recently hunted, but in camp:
Leftovers of an eaten animal:
We could even include fished fish!

I think what you’ve done with them makes sense. If you can be reasonably certain that the animals were found within 10km of the camp, then you can put the camp in the centre of the precision circle and have a 10km radius, and then the location would be accurate.


In the rehabber thread that @upupa-epops linked above, I said

In the context of rehabbing, it was pretty clear the animal would only be captive for a relatively short period of time. In the context of this thread, where animals may be kept in perpetuity, I feel like I should add a bit:

I think people are fine with marking something as wild even when captive so long as the observation has the wild location and the wild date, and the individual hasn’t changed significantly in appearance since the wild date.

Captivity can impact many aspects of appearance, e.g. body mass, timing of molt, brightness of color, etc. In my opinion, if a photo is marked wild, it should have the wild date, the wild location, and the wild appearance.


A rehab or an animal kept in captivity for whatsoever reason. The same as it was a plant

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