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February 12, 2021
Corey James Comstock

Feeding Wildlife

Say, look over there! It’s one of those funny looking Muscovy ducks and he looks hungry. Speaking of hungry, those seagulls seem to be perpetually ravenous, ever notice that? Oh my God, it’s a cute raccoon! Let’s give her something to eat.

Wait. Stop.

Here, in Florida, it is illegal to feed manatees, Sand Hill Cranes, bears, raccoons, foxes and alligators. Although sometimes the feeding of the alligators might be accidental, yikes! Seriously, keep your small animals away from the water’s edge in lagoons and waterways that house these behemoth creatures.

Also, intentionally feeding species that are listed as threatened, endangered or of special concern, including Florida scrub-jays, is prohibited unless authorized by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Why the Debbie Downer pep-talk?

For one reason, and a big reason at that, feeding the wildlife negatively impacts their feeding behavior, often causing them to become accustomed to people, associating us with “food.” Do you really want a 700-pound alligator considering you the Food Dude?

Another reason is that it hinders development of natural food gathering abilities, stunting their health. Much of our human food is junk to mother nature’s darlings and our junk food is even worse. Our typical food items remain a poor substitute for their natural diet and some of it can even be toxic.

Let’s get back to that cute raccoon.

A few weeks ago, I told you all about Mama-Kazi, our resident daredevil squirrel who zeroed in on our bird feeders. Eventually, a motley raccoon wandered into our yard, looking the Grand Marshall from a slum parade. She suffered swollen teats and patchy fur with an expression of perpetual bewilderment atop her bone-thin body. My wife and I concluded that she must have lost her mother before mastering survival in our urban jungle and now she had inadvertently become one. A mother, that is.

She climbed the shepherd’s hook and readily palmed her way past the double baffle system I had installed to thwart the squirrels. She plopped her furry behind on top of the baffles and shoveled handfuls of feed into her mouth and for whatever reason, my wife, Cindy, abruptly named this little bewildered trash-bandit “Sam.”

Oh, let her be. Where’s the harm?

There is lots beginning and ending with infectious disease. Bacteria, viruses, parasites, and, of course, rabies are some of the ones you have probably heard of but there is a wide range of other sicknesses including distemper, hepatitis, parvoviralenteritis, and pseudorabies. I am not going to glaze your eyes over with details but be aware that this nasty concoction of ailments can be zoonotic, in other words, passed on to humans.

And some of these ailments can be fatal.

The more potent problem, though, is learned behavior. Once an animal associates a human with food, she loses her natural fear and wariness, resulting in an unpredictable array of conduct. Today, she seems cute because she placed her little hand on your foot but tomorrow will not be so cute when she slices up your face in search of more peanuts.

They’re wild animals for goodness’ sake. Remember that.
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