Thank You For Not Feeding Wildlife

A grey squirrel. Photo by RT-Images / Getty

Wanting to be close to nature and have moments of connection with animals makes a lot of sense. However, this single moment for a person can have lasting impacts on the animals that ultimately may lead to their injury or death.

Feeding a single squirrel in the city seems safe. But feeding a squirrel seeds or leftover foods teaches them to approach people, to take risks around people they naturally wouldn’t, and diverts them from eating natural, healthy foods in their ecosystem. This means the squirrel may cross busy roads, approach people who are fearful of animals, or not pay attention to risks like traffic and predators.

When many people feed a single squirrel, it can create an artificial food resource – meaning the population of squirrels could increase beyond what the natural ecosystem can support, creating a risk of disease and dependency on people. In most areas where wildlife are living, natural food sources exist with enough abundance that animals do not need the assistance of people providing more, particularly food that can be unhealthy like high-fat nuts, processed breads, etc.

Feeding squirrels can also attract other animals who are interested in crumbs or scents leftover, like mice, rats, voles, possums, raccoons and others. The increased presence of these small animals can in turn attract larger animals who prey on them, like coyotes, bears, birds of prey, feral / community cats, off-leash dogs and others.

A coyote in Alberta. Photo by Songbird839 / Getty Images

Feeding animals for photos, because they seem hungry, or because you feel they need help all have consequences that may not be visible but can be deadly for animals.

The coyotes in Stanley Park were, in part, acting in an abnormal way because of chronic feeding. There are many factors in their behaviour changes, but there is clear evidence that coyotes were comfortable approaching people for food. This directly led to the government deciding to kill an entire family of coyotes in Stanley Park.

It is illegal in British Columbia to feed animals like coyotes, bears, cougars and wolves, and many municipalities are instituting by-laws to make it illegal to feed other wildlife.

If you are attracting a number of wildlife to a property in an urban or suburban area, remember that they’re also crossing through numerous roadways and other properties to get there. This means increased chances for them to try and den on properties where they’re unwelcome, encountering pets and vehicles and ultimately being put in harms’ way. Tenants of nearby properties may also utilize inherently inhumane methods to try and remove unwanted wildlife from their land, too.

Common attractants that may bring wildlife to your property unintentionally include outdoor pet food, exposed or messy compost, non-wildlife resistant and stored garbage and recycling containers, bird feeders or overflowing bird seed, unclean barbecues and more. Get a full list at StashYourTrash.ca.

A raccoon on a fence. Photo by Ken Duffney / Getty Images

How To Help The Animals Instead of Feeding

If you want to have a close encounter with wildlife, please there can be life-and-death consequences to the animals. Is a photo, or a moment of pleasure, worth their life?

Instead of feeding the animals, there are many ways you can help them and learn to love or appreciate them as individuals. We recommend:

  1. Telephoto lenses and binoculars. Photography and nature-watching is still possible at a safe distance, particularly if you have the patience to enjoy the quiet while waiting for the right moment for a sighting or photo. With the advent of digital photography tools on mobile phones, the opportunity to take photos of local wildlife from a safe distance is in the pockets of most people! Carrying binoculars while on a hike can also be a way to get closer without ever creating risk to the animals.
  2. Create native gardens and support habitat. Particularly in urban and suburban spaces, wildlife are constantly adapting when we change the environment with new buildings or even significant changes to old infrastructure. By planting native gardens on your property and supporting native habitats (like Stanley Park) with ethical stewardship, you can create opportunities for wildlife to find homes and live their lives with greater ease.
  3. Keep cats indoors and dogs leashed. While we all love our furry companions, off-leash dogs can and do startle wildlife (and then attract them back to people), and cats allowed to roam outdoors can wreak havoc on bird, insect and rodent populations – all of which may have further ecological impacts we don’t see.
  4. Educate friends, family and neighbours about wildlife. Let the people in your life know about your positive encounters with wildlife, and share these tips and others on how to promote coexistence. Education is at the core of change and a vital tool in keeping wildlife families together.
  5. Support a wildlife rehabilitator. Typically volunteer or non-profit run, wildlife rehabilitators are the frontline for injured, orphaned or ill native wildlife. They can always use support, whether it’s offering drives for animals, donating money or items like blankets, or helping clean cages and rooms. Look yours up and ask how they could use help today.

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Established in 1953, The Fur-Bearers is a charitable, non-partisan organization whose goals are to end the commercial fur trade and promote solutions for wildlife coexistence in communities. Your donation is tax-deductible. Charitable registration number: 130006125RR0002

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