You’re out on the trails and you come across an adorable mountain goat. You can’t help but want to feed wildlife for a number of reasons—out of the goodness of your heart, they look hungry, they might enjoy a bite of your protein bar. Whatever you’re reasoning may be to feed an animal in the wild, don’t do it. Sure they may be cute and it sure is tempting, but there are a number of reasons why you shouldn’t feed wildlife under any circumstances, such as these six listed below.
You may be doing more hurt than harm when feeding a wild animal human food. Human foods aren’t nutritious enough for animals and may cause serious health problem—extreme cases may even result in death. An example of this, is a deformity known as “angel wing”, commonly found in ducks, geese, swans and other waterfowl who are fed white bread, popcorn, crackers, or other human food. An angel wing is a crooked wing which the last joint of the wing is twisted with the wing feathers pointing out laterally, instead of lying against the body.
In one extreme case, a monkey had to be rescued by forest department officials and volunteers after it got addicted to chocolate and biscuits and bit 38 people. “Once a boy began to regularly feed the monkey, it left its group and began to follow the boy. Since he was not in town for a few days, it went hungry and out of hunger, began to attack people,” said Nishanth Ravi, a wildlife conservationist, who helped forest department personnel with the rescue. The monkey was sent to the Vandalur zoo to undergo treatment and eventually was released into a forest far away from human settlement.
If you feed wildlife, you risk the animals becoming too comfortable in residential and recreational areas. Once animals learn they can panhandle for food, they can become not only a nuisance but also a safety risk. The U.S. Forest Service recently had to temporarily close a northern Idaho hiking trail over concerns about aggressive mountain goats after one animal bit a hiker and others reportedly tried to head-butt or charge visitors. According to the Forest Service, visitors to the trail have been offering food to the goats or even allowing them to eat from their hands.
“Feeding wild animals is dangerous and selfish behavior. It not only puts the individual providing the food in danger, it also puts everyone else in danger,” former Fish and Game biologist Mary Terra-Berns wrote in the Daily Bee last year. “Feeding creates an expectation of salt or food from anyone that hikes to the top of the peak.”
When wildlife begin to depend on humans for food handouts, it can cause crowding and competition. These unnatural conditions increase the chances for fighting and attacks among animals. It can also increase the spread of diseases, which can be transmitted to pets and humans.
Giving animals food creates the illusion that there is a lot more where that came from. Producing an artificial food source causes wildlife to continue reproducing, which the natural food supply system can’t support. Overpopulation can lead to starvation, epidemics of disease, competition, and ultimately death.
5. Behavior Changes
Feeding wildlife can change behaviors, often followed with catastrophic results. Feeding can cause death by preventing a species from migrating. It can also cause harmful interaction between species that usually don’t compete for food. Animals can also become overly aggressive, a problem the Grand Canyon National Park Service has had to face in recent years. The National Park Service has had to euthanize deer, coyotes, rock squirrels and other animals at the Grand Canyon that have become overly aggressive towards humans and/or had become completely dependent on food handouts.
There is a lot of truth behind the saying, “a fed animal is a dead animal.” Animals that are fed from cars congregate near roadways and are at a high risk of being killed by vehicle collisions. Animals fed near residential areas also experience the same risk and worse can become intrusive on your property. Wildlife officials may also be prompted to kill these animals for roaming residential premises. In Colorado Springs, wildlife officials had to kill two black bears after they were caught looking for food at a home where a woman was suspected of feeding some of the animals. A neighbor’s camera caught the woman serving breakfast to an extremely large bear a few months before the euthanizing.
The great outdoors is a sanctuary and home for wildlife. Keep wildlife wild by treating them with respect and not approaching them or giving them food. By practicing this, you are aiding their chance for survival. Watch them, take a photograph from a safe distance, and enjoy the beauty of nature by keeping a natural environment—free of human food.