Approximately 26 billion animals, spanning over 10 000 species, are kept on farms and in zoos, conservation breeding centers, research laboratories and households. Captive animals are often healthier, longer-lived and more fecund than free-living conspecifics, but for some species the opposite is true. Captivity is a very long way from the ideal 'common garden' often assumed by evolutionary and ecological researchers using data for captive animals. The use of comparative methods to investigate the fundamental biological causes of these species differences would help to improve husbandry and enclosure design, and might even reveal relationships between susceptibilities to poor captive welfare and susceptibilities to anthropogenic threat in the wild. Studies of these species differences could also inspire and facilitate 'evo-mecho' research into the functions of behavioral control mechanisms.