Tuesday, January 13, 2015

DON'T Feed the Animals?

This sign, on the way into Herring Cove Beach, asks us not to feed the wild animals we might meet there, which runs contrary to the way we might think.
We're especially inclined to want to look after some of Mother Nature's creatures in the wintertime, and our recent spate of bitter cold weather has made us even more conscious of our furred and feathered friends. But we're asked not to feed the animals for good reason…
It's best for the animals, and for us, that they maintain their natural fear of humans. When animals begin to lose their fears and get used to approaching humans for something to eat, they can grow dependent on that source of food, even when their natural sources of nourishment might be abundant. And there goes the balance of nature.
Are there any of us who haven't heard a coyote howling at the end of the road, or noticed a tremendous increase in the number of fox wandering the streets of Provincetown at night? These sounds and sightings used to be rare, and then they began to be fairly common in the middle of the night. Next, these animals began regularly appearing in our neighborhoods earlier, around the time we might be letting pets out one last time before going to bed. And soon it became common the see a fox, for example, looking for food, trotting from one yard to the next in the hours just after dark.
A couple of months ago, driving the short distance down Alden Street, I stopped to watch a fox casually crossing the road just ahead of me. He was sort of strolling from one yard to the next, in no hurry to get out of sight as he crossed in front of my headlights. Not 30 seconds later, just a few houses down, I was astonished to see a pair of fox amble across the road, again just ahead of me, and again unafraid of myself, nor the oncoming car.
What the fox!?!
Last week, in broad daylight, I stopped for a huge blonde fox crossing Bradford Street near Harbor Hill condos around 3 PM. He sauntered up a little hill to a small deck where he reared up on his hind legs and stuck his head between the bannisters surrounding that little porch near the doorway rather than walking up onto it, and began lapping up something he found there. I couldn't quite see what it was, but it seemed like perhaps a bowl of food or water that had been set out for him. He was there for several minutes, helping himself, and it seemed like this particular spot might be a regular stop on his daily route around the town.
A couple of days later, and just a couple of blocks from this spot, I stopped for a pair of fox meandering across Bradford Street near Winthrop, again unconcerned about being spotted or accosted by humans, and again around 3 PM, well before dark. They seemed fearless, with no qualms about being easily seen by humans, and no compunction about gobbling up food meant for pets, if that's what they were up to. Or are people now leaving out food for wild animals? That could prove disastrous for both them and us.
When wild animals get used to feeding at the hands of humans and lose their natural fears, they can become ever bolder, and eventually downright aggressive. We've already lost a number of pets to coyotes, certainly, and maybe to a few fox as well. And these animals can bring fleas, ticks and a number of diseases into town with them, which will eventually affect our pets. We can't invite wildlife to become citizens of PTown.
It's illegal to feed the animals in the Cape Cod National Seashore, for good reason, and we shouldn't feed them in town, either. Animals that become a threat must be euthanized, and no one wants that. If you're feeding wild animals, please stop. They will live their best lives if they live in that gorgeous, natural world that surrounds Provincetown, eating their own, natural foods.

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