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Please don’t feed the animals

I’ve heard from an Oak Ridger who is concerned that his neighbors have been feeding raccoons. As far as I know, there’s no local ordinance or state law against feeding wild animals in Oak Ridge, but I wonder if that’s a direction that the city might need to take in the future. Cities in bear country (such as Gatlinburg) ban feeding of bears, and some cities around the country (particularly in California and the Rocky Mountains) already restrict feeding of other wild animals, such as deer, coyotes, raccoons, foxes and opossums (but they do not ban birdfeeders for wild birds). This is a restriction that people would dislike, but unfortunately there are plenty of excellent reasons not to feed wild animals.

According to various sources:

1. Some of the food that is put out probably gets eaten other animals that we don’t want in our yards and neighborhoods. People who intend to feed raccoons are probably also encouraging coyotes, skunks, or rats.

2. As a general rule, human food is not good for wild animals.

3. Feeding wildlife makes animals dependent on people, which can actually be detrimental to them when they stop seeking their usual food sources are move into human neighborhoods where they may fall prey to dogs, people, and vehicles. (Here’s an online article on the problems that feeding can cause deer and other animals.) Animals that have been fed by people get into the habit of expecting handouts from people and can become aggressive in seeking more of the same. (Here’s a cautionary story about a rogue coyote that had been fed by people.)

4. Raccoons are cute, but unfortunately they are suburban pests that can be a nuisance to homeowners and landscaping (they may even attack pets and small children) and can spread rabies, canine distemper, and other diseases. (For confirmation, check out this article from Birdwatcher’s Digest and the following two fact sheets from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency: Canine Distemper fact sheet and Rabies In Raccoons, Bats, & Skunks.)

5. Wild animal populations (for example of raccoons and skunks) may grow unnaturally large because the animals are being fed. This not only increases the likelihood of damage from the animals, but increases the potential for transmission of rabies, distemper and other diseases that spread faster in denser populations.

Bottom line: Feeding wildlife might be fun, but it’s not good for public health — or for getting along with the neighbors. Please don’t feed the animals! (If people stop feeding wild animals voluntarily, then we won’t need to think about an ordinance.)

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One Comment

  1. Ray Kircher says:

    Sensible article about wildlife, but I don’t think it clears the air. Are we to become a city or become a wildlife sanctuary? Either way, feeding wanderers of Oak Ridge isn’t an ordinance but a waste of time. In a wider view, people who put out trash, keep compost piles, have other wildlife die on their property are feeding animals. If it wasn’t for the racoons and opossums, the dead groundhogs would be piling up behind my house. I believe the lack of hunting these small critters on DOE is populating more into our city, not people feeding rogue animals. Many animals are migratory and feeding them wouldn’t change their behavior or very little. I believe these problems Oak Ridge has will be, whether we feed them or not.

    Yet this brings up a piece of artwork I’ve seen about Oak Ridge Senior feedings. Furthermore, we keep feeding businesses, yet nothing has come of it.

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