The message isn’t new: a fed bear is a dead bear. But as more people head into Canada’s national parks this year, and as our cities and rural communities continue to expand outward, it’s vital that we find new ways of communicating the importance of not feeding wildlife of any species.
The Fur-Bearers have put together this short list of talking points and tips for approaching friends, family, or strangers about feeding wildlife to help you help the animals:
- Increasing proximity tolerance. Most wild animals don’t want to be near people – we’re loud, smelly, and dangerous. But when we feed animals (even just to get a photo), we start to teach them that humans may not be all that bad. In theory, this isn’t necessarily negative – until we consider that not all humans want wild animals near them, and that some wild animals are big enough/strong enough to unintentionally (or intentionally) harm people.
- Changes in behaviour. Cases of food being made available intentionally or unintentionally to wildlife can cause significant changes in their behaviour – such as the willingness to cross a busy road for a quick meal. This has been seen with animals from deer to coyotes, and can cost an animal their life – in addition to causing vehicular collisions, property damage, and other issues.
- You’re not just feeding a chipmunk. Handing out a peanut to a little cute rodent like a chipmunk or squirrel may seem harmless – but you’re introducing food into a massive food web. The animals that hunt squirrels or chipmunks will be affected, the animals that compete with squirrels and chipmunks for resources will be affected, and so on. Feeding small animals can also attract larger animals – such as coyotes, wolves, bears, birds of prey, and so on, to an area they may normally avoid (see the previous points).
- Be concise, compassionate, and calm. People, whether they’re friends or strangers, are more likely to listen when you speak plainly and calmly. Being excited, frustrated, angry, or aggressive can cause them to become defensive, rather than educated. Also, remember that this very well may be the first time the person has been in contact with wildlife, or heard that feeding them is bad. Treat them the way you’d like to be treated, with compassion and empathy.
We can keep wildlife safe and healthy by communicating effectively about the risks and dangers of feeding – and the benefits of respecting wildlife enough to let them remain wild.