Zoo animals - why are they permitted?

I have been using iNaturalist for a couple of years now. A location that I follow is immediately adjacent to a small zoo that specialises in Canadian species. Again and again I see that people have been to the zoo and recorded captive species such as wolves and bears and American river otters that most certainly are not wild in this area. I have occasionally queried the reports with the poster and been met with indifference or “well, I saw it” responses which are not helpful.

If the zoo had exotics such as lions and tigers it would be obvious to all that these were not wild sightings but native species that “could” be around there are quite inappropriately being tagged as present, effectively present in the wild. Rather defeats the object of iNaturalist don’t you think?

Is there a policy on this sort of thing?


Captive animals(or cultivated plants) are explictly permitted to be submitted by iNaturalist guidelines. Please see https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/help#inappropriate

The hope is that they will not be large in number and they should be marked as captive. But this is how some folks do experience nature.


I mean the same thing is true about ornamentals, thats why the captive/cultivated tag is there. You should mark those things as they arise. However, I think it makes sense to keep these images in here because we don’t know how researchers can reuse them. For example, you could compare images of captive big cats or captive mammals in general and do some body condition scoring from the images, or you could compare the biodiversity of observers who have zoo images to those that don’t for some measure of how zoo engagement might impact engagement with other citizen science projects. The struggle of all data collection projects is planning for reuse, so I think keeping ornamentals and captive animals in the dataset is a fine choice.


this, and also, it’s just a lot easier and more community minded to flag them as such (and perhaps start a dialog) rather than banning people, deleting their observations or other more ‘draconian’ methods of trying to get them to stop.


Another thing that can happen is that if zoo animals are outdoors, at least in the summer, they can serve as host to biting flies or other kinds of pest species that can attack mammals, so they are not completely insulated members of the environment.

That being said, it is very important that these observations are marked captive or not wild, and anyone can do that if the observer has not done so.


When I first became aware of iNaturalist it was because I was seeking images of organisms that would help me define what I was seeeing in the natural world. Surely I did not have to limit myself to the images in guide books (even if they are excellent distillations with annotations).

Regardless of whether it is natural/cultivated/captured, the wealth of imagery available for novices to researchers alike is priceless (I have not learned to appreciate morts(remains) and likely never will). I’m not keen on captive (won’t post), I’m gardener so I’m biased on cultivated (won’t post), keen on wild in all its settings (urban included, will post), and I accept there may be a place for morts (extremely rare that I will ID).

People’s observations are their personal collection of what they have come across in this world. We benefit from whatever we can glean from that observation. Being informed of lack of wildness is helpful so that we can discard the information if we so choose.

I do acknowledge that there is a whole string of ethics that are attached to any of this that I can’t do justice to on a smartphone so will leave it at that for now.


I work at a Herbarium and we have a reference collection that includes cultivated material, because they are useful as reference specimens, and sometimes for rare taxa the only specimens or images that exist are of captive/cultivated specimens, so they can be very valuable.


I appreciate them as well because one of the uses of iNaturalist data is that it is the platform providing images for the children’s app, Seek. This app is specifically meant for children to let them capture images of any sort of wildlife or flora they find. As @cmcheatle mentioned, sometimes that is how some people experience nature! I was trying out the Seek app to decide whether it would be a good fit for my students next school year and was pleasantly surprised when I earned a badge for capturing a photo of a “domestic cat” :) So, being able to photograph zoo animals may not be your area of interest, but it surely does help to fill out the dataset that Seek uses. Great question, @inspector_crow, I appreciated being able to logic this out!


Yes true, and the reference images for training the computer vision tech is also sooo great for helping it be accurate in other settings


Could there be a negative tone in your query that is soliciting the defensive response? In other words, are you asking for extra information to “add value”, or challenging them on the validity of their observation?


Yes I wish and only post what I consider good ID photos of life forms as they are found in their natural conditions. but it’s not just for us idealists. Maybe as this platform is getting so huge they should divide it into, “looking for ID” (which would include poor quality photos), “captive and cultivated”…

That being said, it is very important that these observations are marked captive or not wild, and anyone can do that if the observer has not done so.

How? Sorry if it’s a silly question, but I have been looking for a while, and whereas I can easily see how to mark my own observations as captive/cultivated, I cannot find how to flag it for someone else’s. In fact, I can’t even see in someone else’s observation if they flagged it as captive/cultivated.

Regarding the subject of the thread: I agree that zoo animals are conceptually similar to domesticated/captive individuals, and see no need for a separate classification.

I used to find it silly that people entered photos of their pets/potted plants and refused to ID those out of snobbery. But the other day I decided to enter a record of domestic dogs in Greenland as it occurred to me that some people have domestic dogs as research subjects. I ended up spending a bit of time looking at the global map of dogs and cats and marvelling at the diversity of individuals. More broadly, as wildlife/plant trade is a major vector of species introductions, I can also see that for some researchers it will be very useful to understand the distribution of people’s pets and plants.

This leads me to a feature request: can wild vs. captive/cultivated status be added as a filter to the search tool please? And maybe colour-code the records in the map differently for wild vs cultivated (and, actually, for wild-native vs wild-introduced). This would address the problem raised by @inspector_crow whereby the map including zoo individuals gives a false impression of the species’ true distribution. Another example: for a widely used ornamental such as Dracaena reflexa, the map would make it clear it is native to Madagascar and the Indian Ocean, rather than being apparently a cosmopolitan species (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=any&taxon_id=126510).


The flag for captive/cultivated is in the DQA (Data Quality) section of the observation.

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With the mobile android app if you are on the green i part of the observation , at the bottom it says Data Quality. Tap on the green Data Quality bar and it opens the Data Quality Assesment. This is where you can choose whether or not you feel the organism is wild


Further, tips for anyone who wants to go through a set to mark them Captive very quickly: Pull up the captive-laden region through “Identify” on the website, by choosing the Place. Click on the first record in the list. If it is not captive, keep clicking the right arrow on your keyboard. Whenever you find a zoo animal, just click x and then keep right arrowing on through.

You will not see those captive records again in the list without effort, because
-they are automatically marked Reviewed for you when you click x
-they fall into the casual area that is not in the default view


only on the android app


Made the edit thx.
Is there a similar feature on the iphone?

Many thanks for your tips, I can see it now.

not that I’m aware of. You can mark captive/ cultivated but not any other DQA items, observations fields, or tags.

See here for a few other morsels of info:


I just wanted to chime in real quick to say that as a natural area manager, much of my job deals with invasive species, many or all of which began as - you guessed it - captive/horticultural. For this reason, I believe these records to be extremely pertinent on many levels.