What do you think of these two wild/captive edge cases?

Note: this is not a discussion of general issues with the wild/captive dichotomy, please use other threads for that.

I have 2 captive/wild gray area scenarios that I’m curious for second opinions on. (Reminder: iNat considers something captive if it is there because humans intended for it to be there.)

  1. Some prairie dogs were part of a zoo-ish type setting outside of their normal range. They dug under the fence, so the fence was taken down. The owners say the p-dogs are freely reproducing and don’t get feeding or vet care, but they would prevent the p-dogs from spreading beyond their property line.

  2. Some lemurs were “rescued from captivity” (according to a tourist on trip advisor) and were released in an unfenced private reserve. The reserve advertises lemur encounters and the animals are fed both by employees and tourists, but are also free to forage on their own. Some species are not native to the area. Nothing is done to prevent reproduction, but they do have trouble finding mates, which is how they ended up with some hybrid offspring.

Would you mark these captive?


I would say that both of the cases are there because the humans brought them there AND they still there because of humans, probably the two of them would not survive without human care or influence; so I would consider them captive.

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I’d say that Example 1 (prairie dogs) is wild introduced since the escaped population seems to be persisting, foraging, and reproducing on its own.

Example 2 (lemurs) is a little less clear since their food is being augmented by humans and the mixed species “population” may not be self-sustaining or capable of establishing on their own. Although unfenced, it sounds to me like more of a captive situation, but it is a bit of a gray area.


First one depends on how really they’re able to not get them spreading beyond the line.


When I think about escapees I usually add in the likelihood of the species getting established. The ability of an animal to survive without humans isn’t a good way to determine it, since many established parrots probably wouldn’t last long without people.


Wild prairie dogs in other situations where they are being managed can be “contained” (i.e., prevented from moving onto property where they aren’t wanted) by selective poisoning of the “pioneer” individuals, habitat modification, or fencing that extends a couple of feet underground. Poisoning is the most economical method. I know, that sounds harsh, but given the antipathy towards prairie dogs in many places, that is sometimes the only way to allow a population to persist alongside people.

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In both situations the populations are captive because they are there because someone desired them to be so, introduced them to be so, and managed them to be so. I would say that the first population of Prairie Dogs is also captive by the perimeter line. The second population of Lemurs is captive by habituation.

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I’d mark both cases, as they are stated, as captive.

In the first case the animals are being actively restricted from expanding their range and naturalizing. Even though they are out of the original enclosure there are still what is effectively a managed enclosure.

In the second case the animals may not have a hard boundary line, but they are, as stated, kept in a private reserve, which itself has boundaries and the animals are kept as habituated captive animals.

To me neither of these cases, given the details provided, count as borderline instances.

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I would leave both observations as wild:

  1. If they are free to roam outside the fence they have become wild. More precisely wild and alien.

  2. The introduced lemurs are clearly alien and the fact that the reserve in unfenced makes them wild independently of the fact that they partially rely on the feeding by employees and tourists. Hybrids of an alien species with a native one are alien themselves.

  1. I would probably mark as captive.If they are going to prevent them from leaving they are not really wild.

  2. I would mark as captive. It sounds like the intention is for these lemurs to stay on the reserve and interact with tourists rather than go where they want and live a natural life. This doesn’t sound that different to how some domestic cats would be kept on a farm for instance and I would have no doubt about marking those as captive.



  1. I’d consider it wild. They have escaped and are not cared for by humans. I don’t think being allowed to exist and contained by the physical barrier is an argument for captivity anymore than suggesting a weed is part of the landscaping because it happens to be in a non-abandoned yard and hasn’t been mowed down, poisoned or pulled up yet. In my own mind, I think there needs to be a greater degree of stewardship (feeding, medical care, etc) before I would consider them captive.

  2. Captive: the feeding by employees suggests the caretaking I mentioned above. Now, if it were just visitors, that’d be a tougher call, because there are animals, especially in urban settings, that may have the bulk of their diet provided by humans, either unintionally (rats, raccoons, roaches, etc) or deliberately (sparrows , pigeons, etc), but are still considered wild.


An interesting parallel to the prairie dog example is the case of the San Esteban x Sonoran Spiny-tailed Iguana hybrid population that has persisted in a wild state in and around the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tucson. https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/524559-Ctenosaura-conspicuosa-×-macrolopha

This introduced lizard population was founded by escapees from the museum, is not contained or fed, and has reproduced and lived on the grounds of the museum for many years (I recall seeing them back in the 1980s). The population is considered wild on iNat (multiple Research Grade records).


That is a really long extension of terrain (most without a big influence of humans), I thought of that scenario as if the prairie dogs go out of the fence, but usually no more than 10m.

The example that I would offer is one that happen in Madrid (Spain) in a kind of zoo called Faunia, where they have prairie dogs running all around the installations, and they are “wild” to some degree; and theoretically there is nothing that stops them from getting outside the park limits, but they have their burrow in the park, and they are also feed by visitants: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HnXt_bVUNPo.
I think that this might be closer to what jwidness says, in the sense that those animals where brought by humans and if humans would dissapear the prairie dogs would be doomed to die from starvation, diseases or predators (or all). The humans in the first scenario probably intimidate wild animals from attacking the prairie dogs, and provide also water and a place to live, and so the humans are still crucial for the survival of that population.
If the praerie dogs make another separated community outside the garden, I would consider that as wild.


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