Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Wild Animal Definition:

Animals that, as a matter of common knowledge, are naturally ferocious, unpredictable, dangerous, mischievous, or not by custom devoted to the service of mankind at the time and in the place in which it is kept; ferae naturae.

Related Terms: Ferae Naturae

Simply, the plain language alternative to the expression ferae naturae.

In Giles v New York, an inmate was charged by a young cow. In his personal injury claim, he described the cow as a wild animal, hoping thus to impose upon his guardian a higher standard of care. Justice Jeremiah Moriarty of the New York Court of Claims wrote:

"As contrasted to domestic animals (domitae naturae), wild animals (ferae naturae), are those species of animals that, as a matter of common knowledge, are naturally ferocious, unpredictable, dangerous, mischievous, or ... not by custom devoted to the service of mankind at the time and in the place in which it is kept."

In Warren County v. Rittenhouse, Justice Powell of the Court of Appeals of Ohio used these words in his reasons for judgment:

"The law divides animals into two classes, domesticated animals, or domitae naturae, and wild animals, or ferae naturae.

"Domestic animals are those which are naturally tame and gentle, or which by long association with man have become thoroughly domesticated and are now reduced to such a state of subjection to his will that they no longer possess the disposition or inclination to escape.

"Wild animals are those which possess a wild nature or disposition and so require to be reclaimed and made tame by art, industry, or education or else must be kept in confinement to be brought within the immediate power of the owner.

"The fact that a particular animal is kept for a socially valuable purpose does not prevent it from being a wild animal; the test is whether the animals are as a class recognized by custom as devoted to the service of mankind.... Where wild animals, such as lions, are involved, the common law imposes strict liability upon owners, keepers or harborers.... No member of such a species, however domesticated, can ever be regarded as safe, and liability does not rest upon any experience with the particular animal."

Other examples of wild animals as found in law cases:

  • Ferret;1
  • Coyote;2
  • Fox;3 and
  • Deer.4

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