By GENE BULLOCK
Those who love wildlife and nature can’t imagine a world without animals living wild and free. But people who love wildlife can sometimes love them to death.
Some people are so charmed by night-time visitors they can’t resist feeding them. But treating wild animals like pets puts them and their human neighbors at risk.
Teaching wild animals to associate people with food can cost them their lives. Wild animals that expect to be fed by people can pose a serious danger to children and family pets. That’s why it’s illegal to feed them.
Feeding backyard birds, on the other hand, is a relatively safe hobby that adds to our enjoyment of these beautiful creatures. Birds don’t truly need our handouts, but it’s a wonderful way for families to connect with nature. One of the fastest growing hobbies in America, bird-watching, also supports a huge, growing market for bird books and accessories, seeds, suet and ecotourism. It’s a boon to the economy and provides countless jobs. What’s more, it creates a powerful constituency of citizen advocates who place a high value on protecting wildlife, habitat and the environment.
Fortunately, there’s a simple way to enjoy wildlife without turning them into behavioral problems. Just don’t feed them. Don’t leave pet food outside. Don’t make your trash containers easy to raid. Don’t make food easily available.
Wildlife, like raccoons, spend most of their lives finding food for their families and they are amazingly resourceful. But raccoons are also good parents who normally teach their offspring how to stay out of trouble. They are naturally shy and smart about avoiding conflicts with neighborhood dogs, cats and people. They’ve had lots of practice surviving in close proximity to people. But raccoon mothers are also very strong and protective of their young. Many dogs have learned too late not to underestimate the strength and ferocity of a mother raccoon defending her kits.
Well-meaning people are often too eager to rescue “orphan” birds and wildlife babies that seem lost or abandoned. The parents are usually nearby keeping watch as their offspring start exploring the world outside their dens. Many don’t survive these early adventures; but mom usually knows best, so these so-called “orphans” are better left alone.
Those who love wildlife intervene with the best of intentions. Wild birds and animals have adapted and survived on their own for eons. We need to know when our help does more harm than good.
We need to recognize the bounds of our relationship with wildlife and help them remain wild and free.