In Nature, Sharing Is Not Always Caring
Journalist Guillaume Rivest explains why fried chicken is not a viable food option for wild animals.
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“Please do not feed the animals.” Signs with this familiar message are scattered across all of the parks managed by Sépaq (Société des Établissements de Plein Air du Québec), as well as many other places in the province. The rule might seem draconian to many: can one little piece of fried chicken really harm that magnificent fox just metres away? Unfortunately, however good your intentions, sharing your lunch with wildlife does them no good.
Nature is a well-oiled machine, and animals are adapted to their environment. They know where to find their food. They are in excellent physical shape, which allows them to catch prey and escape predators.
Animals possess a natural and healthy mistrust of human beings. Feeding them is an attack on their evolutionary reflexes — as well as their prospects for survival.
Around 2010 a vixen and her kits took up residence near a busy beach in the Parc national du Bic. People watched them with understandable fascination. Bit by bit, the mother fox got used to the presence of humans and soon began begging for food. A few months later, all the members of her little family were doing the same. Human beings were no longer a threat; they’d become a source of food. Now the park’s management has to deal with this situation, which threatens the foxes’ survival. The little family has become dependent on being fed. If we stop feeding them, they’ll likely no longer be able to find food on their own.
In 2006 wolves became a problem in the Parc national du Mont-Tremblant. They’d become so accustomed to humans that Hugues Tennier, head of the conservation and education department, had to develop an intervention protocol. “People were leaving food out in the hopes of attracting and spotting a wolf,” he explains. Wolves began to frequent spaces used by park visitors, from which they’d pilfer food and objects. Once, a wolf even stole a child’s beach ball in broad daylight. With human safety endangered, park management unfortunately had no choice but to shoot the most fearless of the wolves.
With time and a sound strategy, the Parc national du Mont-Tremblant was able to remedy the problem, and wolves now keep their distance again. A key component of the park’s approach was to raise visitor awareness of the negative consequences of leaving food behind in natural environments.
With that in mind, here’s some advice for your next trip to a national park, or hike through the woods, to help prevent wild animals from becoming habituated to human beings. After all, we’re often their greatest danger.
Don’t feed the animals
Rule number one: under no circumstances should you offer any food to a wild animal, even if that food is something it could find in its natural environment. You want to avoid the animal associating humans with food and the wildlife paying people a visit when they’re hungry.
Stow away your supper
For more daring animals, campsites look exactly like a perfectly packed lunch bag. Make sure that your food is inaccessible to the wildlife, and you’ll protect their survival as well as the delicious campfire meal you’d planned.
Don’t throw your scraps in the fire
It might be tempting to deal with your leftovers by throwing them into the fire. Unfortunately, foodstuffs often only partially burn, and there’s a good chance that an animal will stop by to polish off the rest after you leave.
Take a good look around you
Just like your half-burned scraps, a carrot dropped under the picnic table will attract the nearest rodent. After you snack or enjoy a meal, it’s best to carefully double check your surroundings, then check the site over once again before you leave. If food is repeatedly left in the same place, nearby animals will begin to associate the location with an endless feast.
Bring your trash with you or dispose of it properly
Many animals have a highly developed olfactory sense, and food waste (including packaging) smells strongly. To prevent your garbage bags from becoming a makeshift pantry for the surrounding wildlife, ensure that your waste cannot be accessed. Take your trash with you or dispose of it properly. If you’re ever tempted to try to hide it in nature, keep in mind that a black bear can detect an aroma from more than a kilometre away.
Guillaume Rivest is a columnist and freelance journalist from Abitibi-Témiscamingue. An avid lover of nature and the outdoors, he holds a bachelor’s degree in applied political science and a master’s in environmental studies. He works on the Moteur de Recherche program on Ici Radio-Canada Première.