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Feeding Wildlife This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   FEEDING WILDLIFE by Steve C., Waltham, MA One of many serious issues facing our environment is people feeding wildlife. Even in environmentally protected areas, such as National and State Parks, it happens all the time and with all kinds of animals, from mountain goats in Montana to squirrels in Nevada. Most people think that they are helping the animals when they feed them. The truth is that they are not helping, but are actually harming them.

It may seem a simple matter to toss a bit of food in response to the "pleading" eyes of a wild animal, but it's not. First of all, wild animals are not starving for a hiker's handout. Although they can survive on their own, humans provide the easiest food source. In this way, they become dependent on humans for survival. When winter comes and fewer people are hiking or camping, animals who normally obtain food from people then have no food. They may starve to death because they became dependent on the people.

Human food can also be harmful to wild animals (the way chocolate is to a family dog). Often, animals do not get the right nutritional balance from handouts. Sometimes, people give animals food in a wrapper, because they think the animals can tell the difference. Starved deer in the Grand Canyon area were found with their stomachs lined with indigestible wrappers which prevent absorption of nutrients into the body.

In some animals (namely chipmunks and squirrels), the need for human support is so great that they teach the next generation to act cutely and beg for food. Eventually, enough generations learn to beg that it becomes part of the animal's instinct. This is then an ingrained behavior pattern that tells the animal to obtain food from people instead of seeking its own. Chipmunks often bring whole families out to ask for food, knowing that many people cannot resist them.

Sometimes, the dangers haunt the people who feed them. In Bryce National Park in Utah, people who put their fingers within a few inches of the ground, either with or without food, are likely to be nipped by a chipmunk or squirrel. In many parks, the most common visitor injuries are bites from small animals.

In Yellowstone National Park, signs are posted warning, "Do Not Feed the Bears." Here, the danger is very real, because bears are very aggressive and powerful. A bear has to be fed only once by a human before it recognizes people as an easy food source. On a few occasions over the past two decades, bears have attacked hikers ripped off their backpacks, and gone rummaging through the packs for a granola bar or other food.

People "donating" food to wild animals can only result in harm for people, and in either damage or death for the animals. Our state and national parks have been set aside for the preservation of nature. As guests, visitors may observe and enjoy, but should not disrupt the balance of nature by feeding wildlife.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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