If you are an animal lover, as I have been since I first drew breath, you know the feeling.
You see it on television: this lovely animal, a living, breathing, unambiguously wild animal, living its life on its own terms. The camera catches behaviors that enchant you: an otter, playing with water, lion cubs chasing their mother’s tail, a tiger playing with her cub in the snow. You want that. You want that creature; you want to experience the behavior first hand. You want to feel a oneness with the animal. You want it to be a member of your family. In other words, a pet.
Not because you want it to be like your dog, or your cat, no-you want to be a part of that animal’s wildness, to become it. You want to BE that tiger, that lion, that dolphin, living the life as it does…but with your own human mind intact. You want to share in that experience, be that animal. You want to BE a lioness roaring in the night. You want to be a wolf, roaming with a pack.
You want to be Elsa.
|Elsa the lion by Joy Adamson|
You want to see the same things the cameraman saw.
You want to experience the obvious intelligence of Rascal, or Mijbil, or Alex.
But that is impossible. So we try the next best thing: bringing it into our world.
Thus you hear of crazy-and disastrous-attempts: a 400 pound Siberian tiger raised (and abandoned) in a tiny New York flat. Any number of parrots and macaws, snatched from the wild to spend the rest of its life in a cage not much larger than its wingspan. You want an elephant to share her deepest thoughts with you.
Those with money and the best of intentions still find it daunting, keeping wild animals in impossibly small enclosures and feeding them on beef or chicken. Somehow deep inside, no matter how well they care for their wildlings, it's still not the same. It’s still not the Serengeti.
We shouldn’t, as individuals, take an animal from the wild and keep it in a sad facsimile of its natural habitat.
We already have animal companions, many of them direct descendants of the wild ones. The chicken was domesticated so far back in history it’s unknown when it occurred. The dog was probably first domesticated from South East Asian wolves by the people we now call Aborigines, who carried them with them when they invaded Australia, 40,000 years ago. The pig, the goat, the sheep and the cow were domesticated in what are now Turkey, Iraq and Iran, 8K years ago. The horse was domesticated by the Scythians on the Ukrainian steppe 6,000 years ago. The Egyptians domesticated the donkey 5K years ago, and attempted to do the same with the cat. I hesitate to state that cats are domesticated. No, they are the only animal to willingly step into OUR world, unlike the rest that were taken from the wild for a purpose. Cats will sleep in your lap but are still quite capable of surviving in the wild, much to the detriment of songbirds. The camelids: llamas, Bactrian and Dromedary camels were brought into the human fold about 2500 years ago. If you note, the longer the period of domestication, the more of a pet the animal is. There are a few other animals: elephants, guinea pigs, and ferrets, for instance, that people have tamed, but have not domesticated.
Most of the animals we domesticated we did so in order to eat them or enslave them. Or both.
Most of the animals we domesticated we did so in order to eat them or enslave them. Or both.
The nine (I lump the camelids all in one tribe) are the only ones out of the thousands of mammals on this planet that have been successfully domesticated, (and the camelids don’t do it nicely.)
The one animal we forget when we think of domesticated animals is us. I would hesitate to say Homo sapiens is civilized. Domesticated, perhaps, in that we willingly live in unnatural habitats and eat just about anything, but we certainly are not civil. We didn’t become even slightly domesticated until 10K ago, when we began farming. Up until then we acted like our cousins, the chimps, which are quite capable of tearing you apart. A case, actually many millions of cases can be made that we humans are still savagely tribal.
Despite the trappings and conveniences of civilization, we still long for the wilderness. We envy the freedom of a lion living on his own terms, living and dying under a broad African sky, wandering over an endless landscape beneath stars and sky, amidst millions of wildebeest, zebras and gazelle. We would love to live like that, but, of course, with the comforts we’ve grown used to: air conditioning, screens to keep the bugs out, electricity to read a blog on a computer, jets to carry us wherever we want to go quickly and comfortably, flush toilets, cooked food on a daily basis, cool, clean water.
So we take the animals we still love: lions, tigers, bears, leopards, otters (do you see what I see? The ones we want are carnivores.) out of the wild, trying to recover that feeling of wilderness, that taste of freedom.
We have destroyed their world, and yet we want it.
When you take an animal out of the wild, no matter how well you care for it, still, you have changed it into a captive. No matter how entrancing, it is still a prisoner, subject to whatever you choose to do to it or with it. When it matures into the wild animal it is, it begins to demonstrate normal behaviors that are, in many cases, harmful to us, the person who "raised it from a baby". Suddenly it is no longer a cute cub, it is a full grown Bengal tiger who isn’t so amenable to you taking away something it wants. That’s when the owner turns to the zoo. They think, oh, the zoo will want this animal, everyone knows that.
But it isn’t always the case. Zoos are highly organized and, these days, scientifically run institutions with stud books, 'natural' habitats that are difficult and expensive to create and maintain. Quite honestly, the zoo has no place for your suddenly too dangerous or hard to keep pet. They have no room for your pet, nor does your pet fit into the often balanced communities in the zoo. Your pet has never learned to be what it is. For all it knows, it is a human, and has no idea what it means to be a lion or a bear or a chimpanzee.
I have this love/hate affair with zoos, in that the animal is being kept in captivity. Its young will never see the wilderness, it will never live its own life. It is not allowed to make decisions. Its behavior is frustrated by the necessary sterility of an unnatural, tiny habitat. Food is provided, it no longer needs to use its wits to hunt. Its mates are chosen for it. It stops being a wild thing, and becomes: animated art, a mere symbol of what used to be. I hope the animal does not know what it has lost.
Because its wild world is gone.
The wilderness is gone. We have eaten it. We have torn out the jungles, dropped the forests, paved over the prairies, poisoned the oceans, drained the marshes, killed the reefs. We have irreversibly changed the planet into a human one, and there is no place for wild things to live without interference (‘management’) or poaching, hunting, killing it for no reason other than its interfering with US.
Do we allow them to go extinct? Do we allow the last black rhinoceros, the last elephant, the last condor, and the last tiger, to really be the last?
No. I hate it, but no. We have destroyed the wilderness, but we cannot allow the creatures that evolved alongside us, indeed, long before us, to go extinct. If for no other reason than to remind us what we have done.
No matter how badly one wants it, you cannot recreate a wilderness by bringing a wild animal into your home.
If you want to read why, please read “Ring of Bright Water” by Gavin Maxwell. A brilliant author, Maxwell wanted an otter as a pet. You must read the book to learn why, and in hindsight, even he realized belatedly that doing so was the wrong thing to do. Still you cannot help but be entranced by his descriptions of his otters at play, their obvious affection for him, their personalities, their lives.
He had two species, one the native species to his Scotland, and two others, clawless otters from Africa. They were all enchanting animals, but they were also still wild, and, being mustelids, could demonstrate an instantaneous change from rollicking clown to an attacker demonstrating such relentless ferocity that it cost one caretaker a couple fingers. It was the nature of the beast, so to speak, not that the otters were mean, or bad, or mistreated. No, they were wild otters, and were merely acting as such.
Having been raised in captivity, the African otters would never have been successfully released to the wild, although the Scottish otters were. They, however, did not live long, as they would readily approach strange humans who, in one case, killed the otter because-well, because he was a human and the animal was an otter.
No other book I have read of people taking wild animals into their home is as wonderful, yet heart breaking as “Ring of Bright Water”. Yet it should be required reading for anyone even contemplating a wild animal as a pet.
Wild animals are not pets. They entrance and enchant us precisely because they are wild, because they are beautiful, because they are NOT a dog or a cat.
I met a woman who worked with the big cats in a large city zoo. She told me: “All the cats are the same. It doesn’t matter how big or small, they all act the same.”
So you HAVE a tiger. She sleeps in your lap. She pounces on you from ambush. she curls her tail around your leg, telling you how much she loves you and won’t you please hurry up with that tin of cat food? She purrs, she plays, and she loves you. She happens to be the perfect size: not too big like her Siberian cousin, not so small that you can’t play with her.
|Wolf Park, photographer unknown|
The wolf you admire? His domesticated descendant is sitting in the car, waiting to go places with you. He will chase things for you. He will bring them back. He will point out other wild things. He’s the perfect size and temperament. He’s not as smart as a wolf, but then, he won’t tear the couch apart looking for the squeaky toy…well, wait...I do know dogs that destructive.
|From reddit, photographer unknown but that is a 'pet' wolf|
Leave the parrots and macaws in the wild. No bird likes to live in a cage.
If you want a pet, get one that’s already been domesticated.