Should Bones be Marked as "Captive" if they Belong to a Domesticated Animal?

Hello! I’ve been going hiking in some of the mountains here in BC Canada, and I’ve stumbled onto a lot of cow bones, and even old excrement. iNaturalist marks them as casual right away due to them being a domesticated species that (I’m assuming) cannot survive or create a feral population in the wild. This seems fair to me, but all of the locations I’ve seen these bones in have been really far from any farm or town, often being multiple kilometers into the mountains.

All of these bones are at least a couple years old, I can’t imagine it’s possible they would wander so far into the mountain… Them being dragged there by a predator (cougar maybe)? is a possibility but I’m unsure. I’m just wondering if remains being so out of the way is still counting towards evidence of them being captive?

I found this forum post discussing feathers and bones of domestic animals being research grade, and someone brought up that if domestic populations are known to exist in the area the bones were found, they count as research grade. I’m unsure if cows even possess the ability to become feral and survive on their own.

I guess I’m just looking for an explanation? As to why these old remains cannot (or should not?) be marked as not cultivated/captive.


iNat automatically marks observations as casual if some proportion of the observations of a species in the area are already casual (I think it’s like 80 or 90%) - but that doesn’t mean that the organism cannot be wild there.

I think open range cattle would be kind of a gray area under wild/captive - they are operating as wild organisms for a part of the year, but then also often receiving supplemental food and water for at least part of the year as well as medical treatment. They are also often herded to different forage areas to some extent. Because of this, I would probably classify open range cattle as captive myself in most cases.

That said, there are likely some cows that are indeed wild or have escaped from/eft herds. I don’t know a clear way to distinguish these from bones. You could ask any ranchers in the area what they think! I guess there could also be ear tags near a skeleton that would ID a cow as a herd member. If there are no ranchers in the area with open range cattle, it might make sense to mark as “Wild”. Either way, I would suggest explaining your reasoning in Notes or a comment on the observation so that others can understand the info as it won’t be apparent to most based on the pics/location alone.


The forum post you link says the evidence (bone, feather) of a captive animal will itself be captive if identified as the animal from which the bone or feather came.

The wild designation in the forum post you link to would be if the observation is not for the captive source animal but for the presumably wild predator of the source animal. You, the observer, could make clear in the observation notes or initial comment and identification that you are attempting to identify whatever killed the cow.

In our opinion, bones of an animal are hard to id as Cougar or other predator without more evidence (tracks, teeth marks, carcass, etc.).


I can’t speak to the grazing lease system in BC but my experience in Oregon, Montana, and Nevada is that cattle are often trucked far from their home ranches to take advantage of higher elevation pastures in summer. Steers and cows that do not have calves can walk several miles in a day in search of food and water and they can travel up to 15 miles per day when being herded by ranch hands (cows with calves don’t travel as far.)

So seeing domestic cattle far from towns and ranches is not unusual. They can escape and wander farther but unless there is a known breeding population of feral cattle in the woods, I would consider them domesticated.


What @jdjohnson describes is the situation in Alberta also. Public lands through the mountains and foothills are subject to cheap, grand-fathered grazing leases, with cattle trucked or walked in in late spring and rounded up again in fall and removed.

Contrary to what I think most people would imagine, cattle are actually surprisingly athletic and have no trouble negotiating steep terrain, and finding them, or sign of them, far from roads is not unusual. Unless there’s compelling evidence otherwise (and I’m not even sure what that would comprise - possibly enough observation of a herd or of individuals to determine that they are at least a generation removed from captive with no brands, no ear tags?), my first thought would also be that they are probably free-ranging cattle and “captive”.

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Oh alright! I’ll contact the few farmers I know of in the area to see if they free-range or something similar. If they don’t and cattle did escape or get stolen by a predator, would they still be captive/cultivated? Like at what point do domestic species turn feral and create a feral population that constitute as something other than “Captive/Cultivated”

Oh interesting! I had no idea they could travel that far that fast, or about farmers temporarily relocating them to more naturalized areas.

Alright! I had no idea that they had the ability to go long distances in rough terrains, most of the time when you see cattle they’re in a large flat field and don’t taper off from that. I’ll keep the bones casual then, as I’m also not sure how to determine that, especially since none of what I found are recent evidence (except the scat maybe), most of the bones being 3-7 years old means any evidence of a tag would be long gone.

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