When Letting Go is Better than Holding On: Wildlife Captivity in Houses


They’re cute, they’re small, and most importantly, they seem to be harmless. Their playful little face with big eyes begs for a pat on the head. At least that’s until they’ve grown older and started to show their “true colors”, becoming more hostile. At which point they get taken away or worse, killed unfairly. 

It is easy for us to see reality through the rose-tinted glass. After all, what could possibly go wrong? The animals have been claimed to be raised in a sanctuary and they have been domesticated in order to suppress their feral behavior. Not to mention the satisfaction of supporting animal conservation by preventing species extinction always becomes a selling point to those who are concerned about the environment.

The truth is, taking care of a wild animal is not as easy as online influencers make it seem. Orangutans and wild cats that are notorious to be kept as house pets can be often seen on social media wearing clothes and sleeping in cages.  Celebrities and social media influencers post pictures of themselves holding their “pet” proudly. They claim that their action is completely legal and justified by law. However, many people still question the regulations mentioned as experts started to speak up about the truth of wildlife captivity.

Why is it bad to keep wild animals in captivity?

One of the breeders’ claims is that the animals sold are the ones who grew up as orphans. However, oftentimes, the young animals are captured illegally to compensate for the increasing demand for wild/exotic animals. They were taken from their mothers at a very young age and sold locally to pet collectors. National Geographic also explained that poachers frequently either breed or smuggle them out of the country. 

The constant decrease of the animals is causing some species to be on the brink of extinction. It is also important to remember that a species can be considered extinct in the wild when its living members can no longer be found in their natural habitat. This ultimately leads to an imbalance in the ecosystem, as each species has its own role that usually cannot be replaced by other species.

Another major risk of keeping wildlife in captivity without proper care is zoonosis. Zoonosis is defined by the World Health Organization as any disease or infection that is naturally transmissible from vertebrate to humans. However, there are recorded cases of zoonosis occurring in humans to animals. The disease itself can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. This is also a hypothesis with the ongoing pandemic, which was initially thought to be caused by a zoonosis from bats. A pathogen might find a more suitable host than its initial host and find a way to infect other organisms, including humans. 

Not only to humans, keeping wild animals as pets can also be harmful to the animal’s health. Animals in captivity can experience a tremendous amount of stress. A 2019 study published by the journal Conservation Physiology explained that captivity can cause the animals to experience weight loss, persistent changes in baseline and integrated glucocorticoid (steroid hormones that have a wide range of effect on the body, including to direct resources for survival), and changes in the immune system and reproductive suppression. The animals also experience stress during the process of transport, leaving them unable to behave normally as they would in the wild.

This leads to the public questioning the quality of these so-called sanctuaries. The Ministry of Environment and Forestry of Indonesia has stated that there are five principles of animal welfare: freedom of hunger and thirst; freedom from pain, injury, or disease; freedom from discomfort; freedom from fear and distress; and freedom to express normal behavior. The latter is often overlooked, as animals often behave like domesticated pets at a young age. However, this could cause many problems as they age. One example is the heart-breaking story of Charla Nash in 2009 when she suffered from a devastating and permanent injury after her friend’s pet chimpanzee attacked and tore off her face and her body.

Why do people still do it anyway?

Social media plays a huge role in influencing people’s actions. People might think that pet collecting is just a hobby. However, there are actually underlying psychological conditions that can make a person more likely to collect exotic or wild animals. A 2012 study published by the Journal Anthrozoös explained that exotic pet acquisition can be a result of narcissistic and borderline personality traits, motivations of social status, materialistic indulgence, social recognition, ostentation, and conformity. Inarguably, the mundane motives mostly revolve around social validation instead of an actual interest in the animal itself.  

This is exacerbated by our changed perspectives toward animals. Due to the constant exposure to wild animals through social media and even television, people tend to have the idea that wild animals are not dangerous. Few zoos also offer the experience to get very close to these animals and take pictures, which further gives the impersonation of wild animals being tame and friendly.

As a result, a domino effect can happen especially in younger generations. Many teenagers are starting to take an interest in getting themselves a “cute and cuddly wild animal” without thinking about its possible consequences. This has to do with both the psychological and societal nature of teenagers.

What should we do instead?

In Indonesia, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has taken steps to prevent the illegal captivity of wild animals through advocation and education. However, further enforcement of the law regarding animal captivity is essential to eliminate the unending cycle of illegal animal trading. Extensive investigations are also needed in order to uncover underground trading operations and the culprits. 

We can also contribute to animal conservation by spreading awareness to others. By educating people about the danger of keeping wild animals as pets, expectantly the demand for wild animals can be reduced. People can also use the knowledge to take action against poaching incidents they might encounter in daily life, including the ones on social media. A report of the incidents can be filed to BKSDA (Balai Konservasi Sumber Daya Alam) or Nature Conservation Agency. Another way to contribute is by not giving attention to the influencers as engagement can only encourage them to keep making content about the animals. 

In conclusion, sometimes the care and love that we have for animals don’t have to be shown by actually keeping the animals close to us. It is better to let them go and let the animals be in good hands who know how to take proper care of them. That way, they can have the life that they truly deserve. 

Penulis : Iqlima Yasmin

Reporter : Iqlima Yasmin

Editor : Audi Faritz

Foto : istockphoto.com

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