Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Man Vs. Wild

The planet we live on is amazing, and so are the animals we share it with. Humans have been exploring the planet for as long as they have been inhabiting it, and animals have always been right there along with them. As people become more adventurous and visit more remote places, they often feel driven to connect with nature. As a result, some humans are not just coexisting with animals, they are trying to connect with them, sometimes in dangerous ways.

What I am warning of is an epidemic of outdoors visitors feeding wild animals. People see cute little furry animals in the wild and want to get closer to them, so they offer them food. According to the California Department of Fish and Game, "when people feed wildlife, the wildlife becomes habituated to that source of food, and that can lead to animals that are unnaturally bold or develop aggressive behavior."

Crazed aggressive squirrel at Golden Gate Park

For years, American parks have been trying desperately to draw awareness to their "bear friendly" campaigns. Bears have been known to terrorize campsites and cars, because they can smell food. A bear can rip into your car just as fast as you can open a soda can, and their sense of smell is better than a dog's . National Parks, have been teaching people how to properly store their food by using bear bins, and removing all scented items from their cars and tents (including toiletries and things such as WD-40). If a person is not careful, they can find their car or campsite damaged in the morning. Due to it's popularity, Yosemite has garnered a reputation for especially ornery bears, largely because they've come to associate people with food.

This problem is not just with bears. When I was last in Yosemite Valley a few months ago, my boyfriend and I witnessed a coyote literally chasing cars on a main road where tourists gather to take pictures of the view. This animal knew, that if he waited long enough, someone would feed him. Typically, coyote's are fearful of humans, and many believe the loss of that fear through feeding can lead directly to aggression over time. Predator feeding also poses a problem that can lead to over population of other animals lower in the food chain. Deer and other animals when not being used as meals leads to overpopulation, can damage crops, trees, and grasslands.

I was in Golden Gate Park recently in San Francisco, and I was chased by a squirrel that expected me to have food. It was scary! This little animal actual chased me up a flight of stairs, and into another part of the park. There was another person there feeding the squirrels, so this little squirrel thought I would feed him too. Another reason feeding wild animals can be dangerous, is because most of the food humans eat is processed, cooked, or otherwise not digestible. This can make an animal very sick, and could eventually kill them.

YouTube: High - Low

Even in an urban setting, feeding birds and other animals is still not a good idea. While you may feel that the animals are "accustomed to people" or otherwise "not wild," a human food source can still be devastating. For one with many small animals, human sources of food can artificially inflate the population. When the park is less busy due to changing seasons, significant numbers of animals can be left to starve without a food source. Also many urban critters are a conduit for disease and often a threat to public health.

As you can see, feeding wild animals is never a good idea (unless you are a zoo keeper). As adventurous, exploring humans, let's try to keep the coexistence between Man and Wild peaceful. Please, KEEP WILDLIFE WILD!

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