Many people enjoy feeding wildlife because it allows them to have close encounters with animals and they believe the food is contributing to the overall health and survival of the animal. However, providing food to wild animals can have unintended negative consequences for both humans and wildlife. Wildlife officials are urging residents to stop feeding wildlife because (with few exceptions) it often does more harm than good. Animals of primary concern include raccoon, fox, deer, black bear and coyote.
Feeding of wildlife can threaten both human and animal safety. As wild animals are fed they tend to lose their natural fear of humans and become too comfortable in residential areas, appearing almost tame. These animals may be considered a nuisance or worse, may display bold or aggressive behaviors and pose a safety threat to people and domestic pets as a result of being fed.
In Fairfax County, wildlife officials encourage the use of humane exclusion and repellency techniques to discourage wildlife that are considered to be a nuisance on private property. These methods are not always successful and under some circumstances, animals may be lethally removed. Trapping and removal of wildlife is allowed by licensed trappers and animal control operators under Virginia regulations for animals that are considered to be a nuisance or pose a health or safety threat. Animals that are trapped must be euthanized as it is unlawful to relocate wildlife in Virginia, even for local wildlife officials.
“Tolerance of wildlife differs from person to person. What one person may find acceptable, another may perceive as a nuisance or danger. While the intention of those feeding wildlife may be to help these animals, it can create a problem or a potentially dangerous situation within their community. The reality is that healthy wild animals may lose their lives because they have become habituated to people after learning to associate humans with food,” stated Dr. Katherine Edwards, Fairfax County Wildlife Management Specialist.
Other consequences of feeding wildlife include the potential for rapid spread of disease and infection by unnaturally concentrating animals in higher numbers than would normally occur in their natural environment. Human foods also do not contain the proper nutrients for animals and can result in malnutrition and serious health problems. Feeding may also impact the ability of young animals to develop necessary foraging skills to survive once they are taught to depend on human-provided food.
“The best thing to do is refrain from feeding wildlife to minimize the impacts on the surrounding community and the animals themselves,” stated Dr. Katherine Edwards.
Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Feeding Wildlife: Food for Thought http://www.dgif.virginia.gov/habitat/wild-in-the-woods/feeding-wildlife-food-for-thought.pdf
For information on resolving human-wildlife conflicts, the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline is available toll-free at (855) 571-9003, 8:00AM-4:30PM, Monday through Friday. This helpline is a collaborative effort between the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Wildlife Services.