Wildlife Care of SoCal volunteers see the ill effects of feeding wild animals every day. Experts agree that this misplaced kindness is a major threat to wildlife. Here are a few reasons why you should not feed wild animals:
- Providing an artificial food source causes adults to produce large families which the natural food supply can’t support.
- Overpopulation leads to starvation and epidemics of disease. Many of these diseases are dangerous to humans: bubonic plague, salmonella, psittacosis, and rabies, to name a few. Feeding caused the overpopulation of Norway rats that colonized in Pacific Grove’s Lover’s Point Park in recent years. The rats were attracted and sustained by the abundant snacks left for ground squirrels by tourists. The potential public health hazard prompted the county environmental health director to order that the city actively enforce its non-feeding ordinance.
- It is illegal to feed wildlife. Ventura County animal control ordinance prohibits feeding wild animals except for the use of bird feeders. The Marine Mammal Protection Act imposes hefty fines for persons who harass, disturb or interfere with the natural behaviors of marine mammals such as whales, sea lions, harbor seals, pelicans, etc. – this would include providing food to attract the animals or encourage domesticity. It is also illegal to possess any native wildlife without a permit: if you find an injured animal, you should call a licensed rehabilitator in your area immediately.
- Wild animals have specialized diets and can die from the wrong foods. Many people feed wildlife as a form of entertainment; but bread, popcorn, French fries and picnic leftovers can cause disease, death, mouth injuries and throat obstructions in animals adapted to eat other foods. Feeding the wrong diet to a baby animal even for a day or two can permanently damage developing muscles, bones and tissues, making survival impossible. Even feeding supposedly “healthy” food is harmful because it alters the animal’s foraging patterns and can cause overpopulation which ultimately leads to starvation.
- Feeding causes wildlife to lose their natural fear of humans. These animals become easy targets for people who do not respect wildlife and would hurt them intentionally. Also, there are many people who are afraid of wildlife and may injure an animal in an attempt to defend themselves against a mistaken “attack.”
- You always risk injury when you do not keep a respectful distance from wild animals who may misinterpret your actions. Wild animals defend themselves with teeth, beaks, claws, talons, spines, venom, and toxins to name a few adaptions. There is no guarantee that a wild animal knows where the food stops and your fingers begin. Sadly, it is usually the animal which loses when the person feeding complains of being “attacked.” For some reason, many people who would never consider petting a stray dog will readily approach a wild animal.
- Providing food in residential areas often leads to property damage and unwelcome wild “houseguests.” Wildlife Care of Ventura County receives hundreds of calls each year from people complaining of damage and disruption to their homes and landscaping from deer, raccoons and other wildlife. Often this is because someone is attracting the animal with food either on purpose or inadvertently by leaving out pet food or not securing garbage.
- Feeding changes behavior patterns, sometimes with catastrophic results. As each county is seeing with the behavior in our local Coyotes. Humans increase the likelihood of conflicts with coyotes by deliberately or inadvertently feeding the animals, whether by handouts or by providing access to food sources such as garbage, pet food or livestock carcasses. When people provide food, coyotes quickly lose their natural fear of humans and become increasingly aggressive. They also become dependent on the easy food source people provide . Once a coyote stops hunting on its own and loses its fear of people, it becomes dangerous and may attack without warning. The only protection that we have from the wild animals is that they fear us, once we change that dynamic we are left with a wild animal who is not afraid and will do what he needs to… to survive. As in Griffith Park where a number of the Coyotes have become so desensitized to people that they come right up and take food from them or the children, because the children are smaller and less intimidating. The Coyotes are adapting and are only doing what they are taught by people…what ever the reason the end result will always be the same the offending animal will be killed.
Another such case in 1988 when vendors in Monterey were selling fish to feed to the brown pelicans and sea lions. As a result, many of the birds did not migrate and the reduced winter food supply couldn’t support them. The Monterey Wildlife Center received hundreds of pelicans sick from erysphelatrix, a disease the birds contracted from eating the spoiled fish they learned to scavenge from the wharf garbage bins. The starving pelicans also were snatching at people’s food with their sharp beaks.
Feeding causes injuries and harmful interactions between wildlife species. On land feeding stations whether it be bird feeders or feral cat colonies create an unnatural congregation of species that normally would not exist in the wild. And many wild animals take advantage of this and become dependent on a food source that is not balanced, transmit disease being in such close proximity and sustain injuries from other competitors. In addition to having larger litters because of the abundance of food and the carrying capacity of the area. Predators also adapt and learn of the communal feeding stations.
Another such instance, when fishing operations discard leftover offal into the ocean after fish cleaning, it forces confrontations between species who otherwise would not interact. Suddenly, pelicans, who dive for fish near the surface of the water, and harbor seals, who forage for food in the water column and near the ocean floor, are forced to compete for food in the same area, causing injuries which otherwise would not occur. Also, while many marine mammals and birds eat whole fish, the skin and bones of fish by itself is not easily digestible, has little caloric value, and can cause choking and injuries. Fish bones can be very sharp, and Wildlife Care volunteers have had to remove many fish skeletons from the delicate pouches and throats of pelicans whose mouths are adapted to swallow whole fish, not crunch bones. Punctures and lacerations are easily infected, causing a slow death when animals cannot forage or swallow.
Remember: when people and wildlife interact, wildlife often ends up losing. Always enjoy wildlife from a distance!
–By Anne Muraski reprinted from the Quarterly Release, Friends of Monterey County Wildlife’s Newsletter