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Please Don’t Feed the Animals!

Please Don’t Feed the Animals!

Please Don’t Feed the Animals!

As our area continues to become further developed, many more people are coming into closer proximity to native wildlife.  It’s very tempting to put food out for our wildlife friends, but feeding the animals very often does way more harm than good.  Bird feeders do not have too much of an impact, as the birds don’t necessarily become wholly dependent on that as a food source (although the birdseed can also attract rodents and other smaller wildlife animals that could be unwanted).  However, feeding other wildlife very often is not a good idea, and this month’s article will address the reasons why.

When an ecosystem is in correct balance, that area can naturally support the numbers of animals that live there.  Animals that are not finding enough to eat will move to other areas to successfully forage as needed.  Putting food out for wildlife seems like it would be helpful to the animals, as well as providing the fun of getting to see animals up close.  However, despite the initial gratification of drawing the animals closer, feeding is detrimental to their overall health, as well as the health of the entire ecosystem for the following reasons:

• Habituation:  wildlife animals generally overcome their natural wariness of people when plentiful and easily available food is provided for them.  Although “drawing them in” is fun to observe, it can lead to unintended consequences such as the risk of animals being hit on roadways and the dangers of interactions between domestic animals and wildlife animals.  Also, although you might be thrilled to attract a wildlife zoo to your property, your neighbor(s) may not be so appreciative, especially if the deer you might draw in begin destroying their landscaping and the raccoons begin using their pool as their latrine.  Additionally, if habituated animals cannot find enough natural dens or hiding places, they will next look to move into places you may not want them, such as your shed, garage, attic, or under your deck.  This is another consequence of them losing their natural fear of being around people.

• Overpopulation:  In the wild, fertility and survival rates are directly related to the amount of natural food available. This is nature’s way of keeping a healthy balance. When an unnatural food supply is introduced, animals may breed more frequently and/or have increased numbers of young, resulting in more animals living in the area than what natural food sources can support.

• Spread of Diseases:  feeding wildlife leads to them becoming overcrowded in a particular area.  This in turn can contribute to the spread of wildlife diseases.  If animals are spread out, as nature intends, the risk of spreading communicable diseases between animals is less likely.  By having too many animals in one area, disease can quickly spread from animal to animal as more of them are sharing feeding and drinking areas as well as urinating and defecating in a more concentrated area.  Two situations that come to mind are the risks of distemper in raccoons and skunks and the even more concerning risk of chronic wasting disease among deer. 

• Attracting the “Wrong” Animals:  bear in mind that when food is put out, it can attract animals you may not want.  Mice and rats will be drawn in (and they breed like crazy if they’re well fed), which in turn may draw in more snakes.  These animals are naturally around, but when they get out of balance due to artificial food sources being offered, problems will arise.

• Inbreeding Issues:  Animals that are too concentrated in a particular area are more prone to suffer health issues due to inbreeding.  The healthiest animals result from a varied gene pool when animals are spread out and come together only for breeding purposes.  We have seen increased numbers of animals coming in with congenital issues due to inbreeding in overcrowded areas.  For example, we have had several fawns with misshapen mouths/jaws (resulting in them not being able to nurse) and even fawns that have been born with no eyes.  We also have seen congenital issues in baby raccoons and opossums. 

• Over All Health Issues:  Animals are the most healthy when they eat a varied, wild diet.  Their systems are designed to digest certain foods and they have specific nutritional needs that are best met by eating natural foods.  Food we provide for them, such as deer corn, lacks the essential nutrients the animals need, and many of these foods are essentially “junk food” for critters.  For example, deer are ruminants, and therefore to be healthy they need to maintain very specific microbes in their gut which helps break down their natural diet (which is high in fiber).  By feeding them improperly, they get too many carbohydrates and not enough fiber, which could lead to ailments such as bloat, diarrhea, and dehydration.  Additionally, a diet too high in carbs can result in a hoof ailment called founder. Founder is an extremely painful inflammation of the foot; permanent damage can result.  Wildlife animals all have specialized dietary requirements, and they can become malnourished and die if fed the wrong foods.  Also, when animals become dependent on handouts from humans, it changes their natural behaviors like foraging; this in turn can lead to an overabundance of what the wildlife would normally eat (such as insects, grubs, snakes, and rodents).

If you truly love wildlife animals, please resist the urge to feed them.  Instead, consider enhancing their habit by planting native plants, shrubs, and trees that provide both shelter and natural food sources such as seeds, berries, and fruits.  Birdbaths are great for water sources, but smaller animals may not be able to access raised drinking sources, so consider placing one on or close to the ground (just be sure to keep the water clean).   By providing a wildlife-friendly habitat, you can still enjoy visits from our wild friends without causing any harm.

To learn more about what we do and view pictures of many of the animals we assist, please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SavingTexasWildlife. Details and more specifies-specific flowcharts regarding how to help found animals can be viewed on our website at www.ftwl.org (click on “Help and Advice”). These charts are extremely helpful to determine if an animal truly needs rescuing or not.  If you need assistance with a wildlife animal you have found, please call us at 281-259-0039 or email us at [email protected]. We offer many educational programs (including camps, birthday parties, educational presentations, and Second Saturdays).  Our educational visitor’s center is open the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., located at 29816 Dobbin Hufsmith Road, Magnolia, Texas. 

Our next Second Saturday will be on July 8

($5 per person, kids three and under are free.)

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