This trope occurs when a wild animal raised in a zoo, household, or farm environment suddenly finds itself in its "natural" environment and is expected to survive. Naturally, this presents some difficulties for the poor critter, as it never learned basic survival skills from its parents.
This is a common problem with the animals raised in captive breeding programs: they haven't learned to be scared of their natural predators, they might not know how to find food, and due to imprinting, they may have the indelible misapprehension that they're supposed to mate with humans rather than their own species. Zoos are getting better at this but it's still hard.
This Trope is sometimes Truth in Television, as if a zoo is going to rehabilitate their animals, they usually provide environments that allow the animals to practice survival skills prior to their release, so it's logical that an animal who lacked that kind of training would struggle.
Sub-Trope of Fish out of Water, often the result of Pet Baby, Wild Animal. Compare Raised by Orcs, Raised by Wolves, Escaped from the Lab, and A Pet into the Wild. Contrast with From Stray to Pet, where a stray/feral domestic animal gets adopted,
- Wolf's Rain
- Toboe is a wolf pup who was raised by an elderly woman. He accidentally killed her when he grew too big and now lives amongst the other wolves. He's shown to be clumsy about his strength and is the most sociable around humans of the group.
- Blue is a wolf-dog who decides to join the wolves on their journey after learning she's part-wolf. Unlike Toboe, Blue doesn't have much trouble adapting to living amongst wolves.
- Parodied in an episode of Osomatsu-san where Jyushumatsu aspires to become a dolphin. He becomes like a dolphin and escapes with the dolphins into the sea.
- In Rio, Blu is a tame blue macaw, and spends the middle of the film chained (by smugglers) to Jewel, a wild blue macaw. Blu finds the jungles outside the city to be particularly frightening, mainly because of his inability to fly (though most of the film takes place in the city, where Blu is not entirely so helpless). Blu's inability to survive in the wild becomes a bigger plot point in the sequel, Rio 2, where he and his family travel to the Amazon.
- Madagascar is about captive raised animals trying to make it back to their homeland. When they get there things do not go well. For example, the lion is horrified to learn that he will need to eat the relatives of his friends to survive.
- In Open Season, Boog, a tamed grizzly bear raised by a park ranger, is ordered released into the wild after being suspected of causing mayhem in town.
- In The Wild, a lion and his friends escape from a zoo to find the lion's son, who was taken to Africa to be reintroduced to the wild, and they have to face that life out there is not as easy as in the zoo.
- In the Disney Animated Adaptation of The Fox and the Hound, Tod, a fox raised by a kindly old woman, initially struggles to survive as a wild fox when his adoptive mother releases him into the woods to save him from a neighboring Captain Ahab-like hunter. He adapts after a few scenes.
- In Balto II: Wolf Quest, Balto's wolf-dog daughter Aleu (who inherited more wolf attributes than her siblings) was raised around humans. She runs off into the wild and ends up leading a pack of wolves.
- Born Free is all about trying to rehabilitate such an animal (specifically a lion) to the wild.
"Born free, as free as the wind blows..."
- Two Brothers has a pair of tiger cubs that are made pets after their mother is killed. When they break free, the characters express the fear that they may end up becoming man-eaters because they never learned to hunt.
- The Disney Channel made-for-TV movie Cheetah The Hunted was about a tamed cheetah that had to be trained to live in the wild.
- In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry chats with a snake (not knowing that he can speak Parseltongue) and asks if he knew his parents. The snake sadly gestures towards a sign that says "raised in captivity", and Harry sympathises with the creature as he didn't know his parents either. He accidentally lets the snake go due to Power Incontinence from magical powers he didn't know he possessed, meaning that it gets to go free. It thanks him before it leaves the reptile house, scaring the crap out of several bystanders.
- Bagheera in Rudyard Kipling's original The Jungle Book was raised in the Maharajah's menagerie but had no trouble adapting to jungle life after his escape.
- Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love. Lazarus Long told an anecdote about a fox he raised from a kit and tried to release into the wild; it never even left its cage and nearly starved to death.
- White Fang: Inverted. A wild wolf-dog learns to be a pet. The normal dogs treat him poorly because they can smell he's part wolf and he does not adapt well. He is then sold off and forced into illegal dog fighting until he almost dies.
- Inverted with General Woundwort of Watership Down, who was taken in by a kindly human after his mother's death. Growing up apart from other rabbits, and getting hassled by the dog when his rescuer's back was turned, actually made him far tougher than any wild-reared rabbit could be expected to become, ready and able to fight off predators.
- In The Fox and the Hound, Tod the fox's family is killed by hunters when he's just a kit. One of them takes pity on him and adopts him, and even runs more-or-less harmless experiments on him to compare his skills to a puppy he's being raised with. Tod eventually leaves the cushy domestic life and goes on to do just fine in the wild, eventually becoming the last of the wild foxes as suburbia destroys the forest.
- In Bambi, Faline's twin brother Gobo was presumed to have been killed as a fawn however it turns out he was taken in by hunters. They reared him until he was an adult and then released him back into his home forest. Gobo lacks any deer survival skills and is overly cocky as he believes he is friends with all humans. He ends up killed when he approaches a hunter.
- Lusa from Seeker Bears is a black bear cub born and raised in a zoo. She has always wanted to live in the forest but her parents (one of which was born in the wild) discourage her dreams. When she finally escapes she has a difficult time adjusting to life as a wild bear, especially since she's at an age where she should still be with her mother. She's presented as the Naïve Newcomer of the group (with the other three cubs being born in the wild).
- Aldagon from The Blood Of A Dragon complains that she tried rescuing her dragon brethren from a farm where they are raised for magical ingredients, but "Few have lived long enough to learn speech, and none long enough to learn sense." Some starved to death, lacking hunting skills, some killed each other, some drew too much attention from humans...
- Defied in The Little Prince when the fox tells the prince that people are forever responsible for the animals they have tamed
- Pax: The fox was tamed as a kit and left in a forest several years later. He almost starves, but Runt catches food for him.
- In Eric, Rincewind gets rid of the annoying parrot by giving it to a jungle explorer, saying it's cruel to keep it in the city. Despite the parrot itself insisting "I was born in a cage, you raving wossname!"
- Mystery Science Theater 3000: In Pod People, the boy Tommy hatches and raises an alien, who he names Trumpy. At the end, Tommy figures out he can't keep the alien anymore, so he sets Trumpy loose in the forest.
Crow: (as Trumpy) No, I was raised by humans! I can't survive in the wild!
- More than a few episodes of Animal Planet's Growing Up... series (which revolved around raising captive-bred animals through their first year) had the animals released into the wild.
- Zigzagged with Randy from Faux Pas, a red fox raised by humans his whole life, and currently "works" as a studio animal for movies and commercials. He meets a vixen named Cindy, who tries to acclimate Randy to the wild. Randy has no survival skills; however, he's excellent at attracting vixens, who come with him back to his home on the farm.
- In one episode of The Wild Thornberrys Darwin leaves Eliza and escapes into the jungle, but ends up faring quite badly after his years living among humans.
- Another episode's plot revolves around this idea, where Eliza releases a gas station's hyena mascot from his cage, only for him struggling to adjust to life as a wild hyena.
- Parodied in Gravity Falls when Mabel releases a group of cloned boy-band singers out into the wild, where they survive off of garbage and sing to everything in sight.
- Parodied in an episode of Pinky and the Brain where the two eponymous lab mice are abducted and dumped in a jungle by an Animal Wrongs Group that is determined to see lab animals released into the wild but not bothered with details like knowing what an animal's natural habitat actually is.
- Spike from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a dragon whelp raised amongst ponies. As a result, he has nothing in common with other dragons, is soft-mannered, and is In Touch with His Feminine Side. When he meets other dragons in the wild he just ends up bullied and looked down upon.
- One episode of The Simpsons has Krusty forced to release Mr. Teeny into the wild, cut to Mr. Teeny being surrounded by other wild chimpanzees glaring at him and confiscate his lighter when he tries to smoke a cigarette.
- Christian the Lion is a real-life subversion. He was raised as a pet in London during the 1960's. When he grew too large to live in the city, he was taken to a wildlife preserve where he adapted very quickly becoming the leader of his very own pride.
- Keiko, a male Icelandic Orca, was captured in 1979 and sold to an Icelandic aquarium, then sold to Marineland Canada, then sold to Reino Aventura (now Six Flags Mexico). After portraying Willy in Free Willy,note Warner Bros. started a campaign to eventually return Keiko to the wild. He was released in Icelandic waters in 2002, but three weeks later turned up in Norway, seeking human companionship and letting children ride on his back. He failed to reintegrate with wild orcas and died of pneumonia in 2003.
- Animal rights groups such as PETA have been known to take animals and dump them into the wild. In nearly every case, this ended badly as the newly-freed animals starved, died of exposure, or other ways, such as one high-profile case where minks were released from a fur farm and were subsequently killed trying to cross a busy road nearby. In another misguided endeavour, one group ended up releasing a bunch of rabbits who had been raised in a lab. Understandably, most quickly died.
- It isn't unknown for people to release their tame, exotic pet animals into the wild. This may-or-may-not work depending on the animal and the environment. Sometimes animals actually thrive and become an invasive species, but usually they die for various reasons.