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Written by Chris Varner


                                     " DON’T FEED THE WILDLIFE"

How many times have we all seen and heard the message, "Don’t Feed the Wildlife"? The message is posted on signs throughout parks and National Wildlife Refuge. It appears in the written language. It appears as a universal symbol. It is written in the pamphlets given out at the park entrances. It is talked about on radio, television, and at social gatherings. Every time there is a broadcast of a bear attack or some other wildlife attack, the same message is repeated: "Do Not Feed the Wildlife." Yet for the most part people ignore this often repeated message.

Is "Grizzly Adams" to blame for this flagrant violation of the law? Do park visitors think that they are special if they can hold out a wiener or Cheetos and an animal or a bird will come to them? Do people think that the once in a lifetime shot of their little Timmy or Becky with the bear or bison is worth the very real risk that the picture may well be the last in a lifetime shot? Do they think that if they are a professional or serious amateur wildlife photographer that the "Don’t Feed the Wildlife" doesn’t apply to them but is intended only for the less creative people? Do they think that if they disguise feeding the wildlife in some noble concern for helping the wildlife that the law doesn’t apply?

Feeding wildlife gives people the false belief that wildlife is "people friendly." They are not. They remain wildlife which has lost their wariness of humans. They have lost their wariness because they have begun to associate people with food. This association of humans with food is often mistaken as a friendship. It is not. The wildlife approaches because it expects to get food--bread, wieners, nuts, whatever. When the food is not forthcoming or when the portions are not large enough to satisfy the particular species being fed, then with all the self control of a human toddler, who doesn’t get their way, the wildlife may throw a fit. Their fits include kicking, biting, scratching and pushing. For the people, the injury is can be serious and sometimes fatal. For the wildlife which causes a death or a loss of a human limb, it is often death. Don’t feed the wildlife.

There are, of course, other reasons for not feeding wildlife besides the risk of immediate serious injury or death. Wildlife can transmit diseases to humans. In fact, some people only feed the smaller animals and so they feel safe from injury. Small animals like squirrels, chipmunks, marmots are capable of biting and transferring disease just as the larger mammals. If an animal has contracted rabies, the animal typically loses its wariness of humans just as wildlife which has been fed by humans do. There is no way to know whether the animal that is approaching is rabid. There is no way to know that the bite is from a rabid animal rather than one who is " biting the hand that feeds it." There is no way to know that both situations do not apply. Frothing at the mouth, unfortunately, is one of the last symptoms prior to death and the animal is capable of infecting before the appearance of frothing. Is the person who has been bitten going to go through with rabies shots or just put on an anti-bacterial ointment and hope that they weren’t infected? The answer is simple: "Don’t feed the wildlife."

I am not going to address how the young wildlife learn survival technique from the parent; nor how the young imitate the adults or how luring the adults with handouts encourages the young to hangout close to and on the highways for these handouts while the parents approach cars for the handouts. But I do want to point out that it is not always coyotes or foxes or the young larger mammals which get hit and killed by cars. The large mammals, deer, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats do also. When these large mammals are hit by cars, the passengers inside can be injured or killed. Don’t encourage wildlife to hangout at roadsides or to approach vehicles for a handout. Don’t feed the wildlife.

If you are not persuaded after this not to feed the wildlife, then let’s talk about money. Not the money that it may cost to get treated for an injury to self, family or property but the fine that you may have to pay if you are caught. It is against the law to feed wildlife in all national parks in the United States and in Canada. The amount of the fine varies and, under some circumstance, there can also be an additional forfeiture of property. To avoid the risk, obey the law. Don’t feed the Wildlife.

---by Chris Varner



Some Previous Editorials

Fall '99        ..."Truly Wild Animals"... Are they really dangerous? by Chris Varner
November   ...Tell Me How to be a Wildlife Photographer....with 2nd  how to do it page.
September  ...A Purist Viewpoint on Nature Photography...hands of man rule & reason..
August        ...On bird and wildlife massacre's...with added page on a couple weeks later.
July            ....1st and general editorial with added page on endangered species.



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