Is it wrong to feed wild animals?

I suppose one easy answer is, yes it is wrong because the animals may come to rely on hand-outs, and may cease to be able to support themselves via natural foraging.

But of course, many of the animals that we tend to want to feed, such as pigeons, sparrows and squirrels, are living in the cities as a loose part of what I like to call the human ecosystem, a system that we seem to take with us wherever we go in the world, and which often consists of animals and plants that we ourselves have introduced to areas, either accidentally or deliberately.

In and around the cities, many animals are reliant on human scraps or human trash for survival.

I do not do any wholesale or regular feeding of "wild" animals, but I have occasionally fed birds, or fish, or even mammals that are not pets.

Is this reprehensible?

I personally think in my case (which is not egregious) the joy that comes from the simple act of generosity of occasionally sharing your food, outweighs the possible harm to the wildlife. And I think it is important for people a few times in their life, one way or another, to experience some sort of direct personal connection with the wild, so that they come to feel a real kinship with the rest of nature.

Also see this observation:

http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/4631137

I would be interested to hear other people's comment on these ideas.

Posted by susanhewitt susanhewitt, November 25, 2016 13:58

Observations

Photos / Sounds

What

Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Observer

susanhewitt

Date

November 24, 2016 02:47 PM EST

Tags

Comments

Hi, Susan. I live about 4 miles from downtown Dallas, TX in a very urbanized, older neighborhood with lots of mature trees. I love having my bird feeders to draw in some of the native birds that I probably wouldn't see as often without the feeders. Different species will appear for a time and move on as the seasons change; I assume continuing to feed themselves with wild seeds and insects. I don't think there is too much potential for harm feeding animals in an urban area that are used to us humans being around.

I don't think I agree with feeding certain wild animals that don't interact with humans regularly. I think of people feeding dolphins and stingrays (as a business, for tourists), for example, and it seems like those situations might create some kind of dependency. Or, it might result in those animals losing a healthy fear of humans that could result in their being captured or killed. Having said all of that, I'm hoping to someday learn to hand feed chickadees. :)

I think humans have a natural tendency to want to feed animals of all kinds (wild and domesticated). It's how we interact with them since we can't communicate verbally (with a few exceptions) and most of them won't let us just walk up and pet them.

~Adam

Posted by tadamcochran over 5 years ago (Flag)

Susan, I think this is a great question to pose on iNaturalist. You'll find my position staunchly opposed to feeding wild animals of any kind. I'll try not to rant, but I do feel strongly about this.

I've spent the last year studying human-caused disturbance to wildlife and, while I haven't reviewed any research on the wide range of wildlife feeding activities that occur, I would categorize most cases of feeding as a disruption to natural diet and behavior patterns.

The standard argument against feeding wild animals like gulls or ducks foods like bread, popcorn, Cheetos, whatever, is that it fills their stomachs and circumvents (or even prevents) more natural foraging behaviors. In other species--raccoons, skunks, for example, feeding increases boldness (increasing probability of less desirable direct interactions for both wildlife and human) and increases dependence on human foods (which one could argue, as you did, they already are). I fail to see an upside to encourage a wild animal to take food from my hand beyond the momentary pleasure it might give me. On San Nicolas Is. all around you will see posted, "A fed fox is a dead fox" and they have abundant cases to back up that claim.

I understand the desire to connect in an intimate way with wildlife. I have fed wildlife many times in the past, and often feel tempted even today (try being confronted with an island fox at your door on San Nicolas Island). Maybe the urge lies deep in our subconscious need to tame. Or maybe we've become so far removed from all that is wild, we need to take advantage of any strategy to bridge that gap. When people paddle their kayak into a raft of sea otters, they are often seeking that "wild moment", that connection with a wild animal that makes them feel special. Part of my approach is to encourage less invasive (and I would argue less selfish) ways to find that connection. I think those of us on iNat are more in tune with those ways than many. Personally, I find watching wildlife doing their thing as far removed from my influence as is possible in this crowded world, much more satisfying than seeing how effectively I can infiltrate their behavior patterns.

I confess that I've become more firm in this position in recent years, and now don't even engage in the most widely sanctioned form of wildlife feeding: bird feeders. I think close to 100% of my biologist friends and colleagues are remain devoted to their feeders, and I suspect any position questioning them would be met with opposition on iNat. I haven't built a solid science-based argument against bird feeders, so I won't belabor the point, but it feels hypocritical to argue against wildlife feeding and ignore on type of that because I like doing it.

The topic of wildlife feeding is so broad and varied, I'm sure someone could come up with an example or two to which I'd not object. But in general I suspect it's more about what the human needs and desires and less about the needs of the wild animal.

Gena

Posted by gbentall over 5 years ago (Flag)

Thanks Adam, and thanks Gena. I knew this would be a controversial topic, which I why I brought it up in the first place.

So... I am glad to hear any and every opinion on this.

A related question is whether it is fair to keep any animals in captivity, but I will save that question for another day, and plus it is arguably not really relevant to iNaturalist.

Posted by susanhewitt over 5 years ago (Flag)

I strongly oppose feeding certain wild animals. Bears, raccoons, and foxes for instance. Pretty much any wild animal that can cause physical harm to humans. Once they associate us with food, they become less fearful and will exhibit more aggressive behavior towards humans. You are not doing these animals a favor by feeding them. Instead, someone might end up getting hurt and the animal will likely be hunted and put down.

I don't think feeding squirrels is a good idea either. I've seen California ground squirrels come up to people and nibble their hand, thinking that they have food. Again, these types of behaviors puts the animal and humans at risk. Usually, these are passive animals and will scurry away at the sight of humans. Sure, they are very cute and you just want to pet them. I imagine this is the mindset of most people. However, we need to remember that these are WILD animals. If you want an animal to love, cuddle, or have a connection with, I recommend getting a pet.

For some animals, I feel that it would be okay if you feed them. Especially introduced animals like red-eared sliders and koi fishes at man-made ponds. I can't imagine them hurting humans so I see no harm towards the animal if people fed them. My feelings for feeding wild birds are mixed so I don't have any strong position on that for now.

Posted by cedric_lee over 5 years ago (Flag)

Of course I live in New York City, so what counts as "wild" is very limited here.

Posted by susanhewitt over 5 years ago (Flag)

The Buddhists believe that when you feed animals in this lifetime, you establish a karmic connection with them, such that in some future lifetime, once you have become a full Buddha, they will be among your human disciples. It is considered meritorious to share your food with animals. Although maybe feeding farm animals would be considered sufficient, without feeding any wild animals.

And what about feral animals? All of the pigeons in the city are feral, and a certain number of them are escapees from pigeon coops and are fairly tame, because they were raised with some handling by humans. I used to know a big white pigeon that would happily come and sit on your finger if it noticed you holding your hand out.

Posted by susanhewitt over 5 years ago (Flag)

If it won't hurt them or other wild animals, then maybe there is not harm. If limited to animals that aren't easily habituated, or if habituated it won't have any detrimental impacts on the animal's survival, if it won't create a sanitary or safety issue, or won't be an issue, should be okay, right? We have done so much to negatively impact these animals' environments, vastly decreasing their habitat, food supply, populations, why not make up for that by giving them a little extra food? For those claims that feeding wildlife we will be changing nature, I wonder if building nest boxes or re-altering habitats, even in a restorative way is also changing animals' habits for better or worse. If we found a population of birds that were now dependent for their survival on cropland, would it be more or less ethical to keep that land as cropland or to return it to its former less productive state? The current Salton Sea is an artificial accident, but it is also now critical wetland habitat. Should we keep feeding those birds with either our crops or with the numerous insects and brine? I'd say yes.

Posted by mrfish33 over 5 years ago (Flag)

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