A lot of people get mixed up about the differences between wild animals, tame animals and domestic animals. For example, I noticed that lots of people think that elephants have been domesticated. That is not technically correct. Elephants have been trained, and may even appear to be tame, but have never been domesticated.
Domesticated animals are those that have been bred by humans for certain characteristics, generally over many generations. Most farm animals (horses, pigs, cows, chickens) have been domesticated. As in the barnyard examples above, many of these animals are domesticated to increase their production of food for people (after all, you don’t see skinny pigs or cows very often), but sometimes they can be domesticated for certain behaviors that people have used for their own benefit (hunting dogs or horses, for example).
Often times these animals have been bred for characteristics that are so different from their wild relatives, that they are a distinct species, and the wild species from which they arose are now extinct. A good example of this is the auroch, which was the species of wild cattle that likely gave rise to the modern dairy cows, and became extinct within the last couple hundred years. The wild relatives of the domestic horse have also been extinct for thousands of years. Usually, domesticated animals are also bred to be around people, or tame enough to avoid hurting themselves or people when they come in contact with them.
But being domesticated is a lot different from being trained or tame. When you see elephants or dolphins in a show, those animals are trained and responding to certain commands that they have learned. They are not domestic, and they look and generally behave just like their wild brothers and sisters. If you mixed lions from a circus in with wild lions, you could not tell one from the other by looking at them. Circus lions are not domestic, they are trained to respond to certain commands, but they are wild animals.
The difference between wild animals and domestic animals really becomes important when considering suitable animals to have as pets. There is a simple rule that should help you in determining whether an animal is a suitable pet. Generally speaking, if it is a wild animal, it does not make a good pet. Domestic animals are often bred to be pets, wild animals are not. For example, dogs, cats, parakeets, all make good pets. Monkeys, raccoons, squirrels are wild animals that do not make good pets.
It’s pretty simple really. Wild animals do not make good pets. There are plenty of domestic animals that do make good pets, and it is a knowledgeable and informed pet buyer who understands that keeping wild animals as pets usually results in sadness and often tragedy for the animal, the pet owner, or both. That is why whenever people ask me about animals as pets, I ask them two questions: First, are they committed to providing all the effort, patience and care that being a responsible pet owner entails? And then if they are, I ask what kind of animal they are thinking about. If it’s a wild animal, it’s not a pet. It’s not supposed to be a pet, and it almost never should be. Period.