Monday, November 21, 2011

The Dangers of Feeding Wild Animals

Most people understand that wild animals can be dangerous and deserve our respect and caution when interacting with them. Unfortunately, there are still many people, albeit good intentioned as they are, who fail to understand this and will not only approach wildlife in an aggressive manner but also feed wild animals. I admit, as a child, I used to sneak into the kitchen and steal slices of salami to feed a fox who used to make an appearance in my backyard every evening around 6. I thought he was my friend and even gave him a name but in reality, he was only using me for the salami and now that I am older and wiser, I realize that I may have been doing more damage than good to that poor fox.

Fast forward life, being given free handouts. First of all, a fed animal becomes a "friendly" animal. If it knows it will be getting food, it will always be around. This presents a danger to yourself because a wild animal hanging around can become a threat to children and pets especially if that food supply suddenly stops. Secondly, it presents danger to the animal. Having a wild animal encroaching too close to civilization can put the animal at risk for harm such as being hit by a vehicle or being trapped by neighbors who are not so thrilled about having a wild coyote, fox or other animal hanging around. But, most importantly, it puts the animal at risk for starvation, malnourishment, deportation by wildlife officials or even death. Animals in the wild learn from birth that they must hunt for their meals. Hunting is hard and tiring and does not always deliver the desired effect but they survive. Accepting handouts from a friendly human is easy - no effort required. The danger in this is an animal who becomes too dependent on these easy handouts loses its instincts to hunt for himself. When you suddenly stop providing this food, the animal is left hungry and may face a long, hard winter without anything to eat. And because animals who are fed are not afraid of humans and have no problem approaching people, wildlife officials see this as a dangerous combination and recipe for disaster and sometimes they have no choice but to either relocate the animal deeper into the wild after having already lost its hunting instincts or to destroy the animal.

Here in Cape Breton where I live, there is a large number of Coyotes and they are coming into close contact with humans on a daily basis. Even though there have been serious incidents with these animals in the recent past, some people still think that they are friendly and proceed to feed them as if they were pets. Than they wonder why their cats are missing and their garbage is torn to shreds. Coyotes may look and act like friendly dogs but they can be dangerous and they are not afraid of people. They also travel in packs. Foxes on the other hand may not be dangerous to the point that they attack or bite people but they do carry rabies and they do eat small pets. They are also not very afraid of humans and they are quite energetic and playful in nature. I assume this is why so many people have been feeding them at various locations around town; they are easy to approach and have no problem approaching people. They have become so dependent on humans for food that there are accounts of foxes actually making dens out of backyard sheds and church basements! Why would they have dens in the forest when they can have one that is mere feet away from the food source? I hear people complaining every day about how the foxes are taking over but than see the same people feeding them leftover KFC and pizza. Not a very healthy diet for humans let alone a wild animal who is used to eating raw meat. Last I heard, some of these beautiful creatures were going to be relocated or destroyed because they made a den too close to one of the elementary schools.

I actually had the chance to meet one of these local foxes who was being fed by well-meaning locals and was shocked by its reaction to me and its peculiar behavior. Just see for yourself in the pictures below! At the time, it was all in good fun and, although I did not feed him, it was pretty obvious that someone was. I was taking pictures one evening near a graveyard and he approached me. I was weary at first but felt comfortable enough to let my guard down with him to get these pictures and have a bit of fun with him. It was just like having a pet dog with me. He followed me everywhere I went and stood right next to me like a loyal friend as I snapped pictures. He even tried to get into my car at one point and I'm sure he would have tagged along if I let him! Before we parted ways, he decided to start up a little friendly game of hide and seek and, although the pictures are quite cute, they are also shocking. Very rarely is this behavior documented or even experienced by most people but I assure you the pictures are real and make for a great memory. The sad part is I have no idea what the fate of that fox might be and how he will survive the upcoming winter if those precious handouts he has become so dependent on cease. So now I leave you with these pictures to enjoy but also ask that you please think twice before you try to feed a wild animal. I assure you that he is well-trained and able to find his own food. His life may depend on your decision!

1 comment:

Wildlife Photographer said...

Hello friends,

I really like what you have going here. Lots of information on a lot of subjects that I find interesting.


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