Why the Best Way to Love Animals is to Leave Them Alone
Throwing out bread crumbs to a flock of dabbling ducks feels magical. Little quacks fill the air as feathered friends scuttle across the water, nibbling food off the surface. If you're lucky, you spot a mother with ducklings in tow, little floofs bobbing on the pond. What can be more special than this? You and your crumbs are helping feed these cuties; surely you're doing your part to keep the circle of life in flow.
What you may not know is, when you feed wildlife, you can kill them with your kindness.
I know that's a big statement, so let's unpack it. Wildlife is exactly as it sounds: wild. The squirrels, ducks, raccoons, and other animals that call our parks home aren't pets. Hunting, foraging, and migrating are just as much parts of their lives as they are to lions, gorillas, and whales. When we don't treat them as such, we harm both them and us.
From malnutrition and the disruption of ecosystems to increased disease transmission and human-wildlife conflict, the damages caused by feeding wildlife are vast and varied.
Here are but a few:
Human foods aren't nutritious enough for animals:
Animals have evolved over millions of years to eat certain types of food, different types than we humans eat. But animals don't know the difference, and feeding them food intended for humans can cause them serious health problems. For example, while so many of us grew up feeding bread to ducks, bread is awful for waterfowl. As empty calories, bread can cause malnutrition in young birds and obesity in adults.
Animals become dependent on humans:
Animals were feeding themselves for hundreds of millions of years before humans came around. They're experts at it. But if we start doing it for them, they can quickly forget how to fend for themselves and teach their young to do the same. This can lead to more young wildlife dying early due to a lack of essential instincts.
Biting the hand that feeds:
Wild animals aren't pets, and just because your cat or dog eats civilly doesn't mean an animal in a park will do the same. There's nothing stopping a raccoon or goose from peacefully nibbling on food one moment and biting you the next. Plus, feeding animals, especially smaller ones like squirrels and rabbits, can increase their numbers in cities and suburbs, attracting predators thanks to the extra prey. And, for animals like coyotes, both squirrels and outdoor cats make excellent meals.
Diseases can spread:
Many diseases can be transmitted between wild animals and humans or pets. In fact, many severe viruses originated in animals before passing to us. Feeding wildlife brings more animals into our cities and suburbs, increasing the chances of disease transmission both between wild animals as well as us humans and our pets. Some of these diseases, like rabies, are deadly.
Ecosystems can crumble:
The more we disrupt ecosystems by feeding wildlife, the harder it is for them to survive. Feeding waterfowl like ducks and geese can cause them to choose to stay in places year round instead of migrating. Except, many of these places don't have enough resources to support both the birds and the animals that usually stay there over winter, causing both to suffer. And that's just one example; more wildlife in an area can devastate the local plants due to overgrazing and increased disease spreading can ravage entire populations. It may seem insignificant at the moment, but feeding a cute little animal some food can start a chain reaction that could wreck your local environment.
Yet, there is good news: helping wildlife has never been easier! If you're someone who loves animals, all it takes to keep them and their communities fit and flourishing is to leave them alone. Everyone can do their part to keep wildlife wild.
Want to learn more? Here are some links to more resources where you can explore more about how the best way to love animals is to leave them alone.