How Wild Feral and Domestic Animals Differ

It can be difficult to tell the difference between wild, feral and domestic animals. If they are the same species they may look the same or be very similar to one another. The difference can be very important because the way people deal with them may be very different. What do we mean by the terms wild, feral and domestic?

Wild animals are those animals that have always lived in the wild and have never been tamed by man. They include zoo and safari park animals, because although they were born in captivity and are confined to an area, they have never been tamed by man. They do not include circus animals because they have been trained by man to some degree even though they may look and behave like wild animals.

There are some species of animals that closely resemble and are closely related to the domestic varieties of the same species. At first sight the European wild cat common in Europe and parts of Scotland resembles the domestic moggy that we know and love. However on closer inspection a wild cat has a thicker, shorter tail and an altogether stockier and more compact body. A wild cat is much fiercer and less tolerant of humans.

Domestic animals are those animals that man keeps in his home or in his fields or stables. This category includes dogs and cats and other companion animals but also horses, cows, sheep, donkeys, pigs and other farm animals. They are the animals which man domesticated long ago in prehistory to serve his needs. The animal gets a good bargain for the most part regular food, warmth and shelter must have seemed wonderful to the big cats and wolves that crept into the cave dwellings of those long ago humans. Man then selectively bred those animals to be smaller, more amenable to his needs and less fierce. The family dog and cat that we know today are evidence of the success of these techniques but we should never forget their origins and not ascribe human emotions to what are still essentially wild animals.

Some animals play a greater part in man’s everyday life than others; man has trained dogs to herd his livestock, sniff out explosives, drugs and firearms, to assist disabled humans to live independent lives, find and help rescue lost or injured humans on hills, mountains and moors and, along with other companion animals, to cheer hospital patients. Animals play a huge part in the life of humanity.

Feral animals are those species that were once domesticated and have returned to the wild. Cats and pigs of all varieties are good examples of this category. They can both return to the wild very successfully. The domestic cat still retains the instinct to catch and kill prey and can live without human aid. Pigs too can live successfully in the wild since they too have retained the instincts that they need. Other domesticated animals may find a wild life much more difficult since they have probably become far too dependent on man.

Animals that return to the wild will breed successfully in the wild. Cats, for example, have litters in the wild. The offspring of these animals who do not have contact with humans in their infancy will still be feral but they will react aggressively to humans. It is next to impossible to re-domesticate an adult feral cat but if you get a feral kitten accustomed to human contact at an early enough age it could make a very fine pet.

Telling the difference between domesticated, feral and wild animals is very important. If you come accross an injured or wandering animal or a baby animal in need of help it is best to be able to distinguish immediately what you are dealing with. In the case of cats or pigs not least because you could get very badly injured yourself if you try to deal with them thinking that you are dealing with a domestic creature when the animal is actually wild or feral.