Is it wrong to feed wild things?
Over 11 million people liked what he did, but some say it was wrong.
Is this man making a mistake?
João Silvestrini from São Paulo, Brazil, posted a video on Facebook of one of his daily visits from a young swallowtail hummingbird. It's a totally heartwarming scene — he calls from his kitchen window, and the bird slips inside and darts around a feeder. All the while, the gentleman keeps up a string of chatter — to us and to the bird.
It really is a lovely moment ... BUT —
Some people sharing the video judged him by declaring, "leave wildlife alone." The argument for this is that feeding and taming wildlife sets a bad example and likely does more harm than good.
So, was he wrong?
I say no. And here's why.
It's true, feeding animals can be dangerous — and mostly for the wild things:
- Pop-Tarts don't grow in the wild (i.e., people food isn't good for animals).
- Getting animals used to you can put them at risk for getting hurt by other, not-so-nice people.
- Feeding wild animals means they get close to you, pets, and each other in a way that can spread disease.
- What starts out cute can become a bad habit (e.g., a raccoon scratching at your screen at 2 a.m. looking for a snack).
But feeding them is often our easiest way of making a connection. And as humans, we crave that connection in a big way.
From the time we are children, we begin building deep, emotional relationships — both real and imagined — with animals. I'm not just talking about household pets either. Think about all of the animals in origin stories from indigenous people. Or how about the books we read as a kids: "Winnie-the-Pooh"? "Charlotte's Web"? "The Jungle Book"? Or what about the origin stories of Spider-Man, Wolverine, or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The trips to the zoo? For example, check out the animal love shared by this cutie on Humans of New York.
And the fascination doesn't end there. Even as adults, it seems that many of us feel a bit desperate for some kind of connection to the animal world. After all, animals do rule the Internet.
It makes sense. Whether or not you feel any personal, emotional connection to animals, the reality is that our cities are growing, and so is the wildlife in them.
We physically share their space and our lives are really interconnected.
You affect animals by whether or not you plant flowers (even in a window box, the right plants will delight bees, butterflies, or hummingbirds), you let your cat go outside without a bell, you toss picnic leavings in the bushes, or you take the time to help a wounded wild thing.
I once encountered a duck with one of those triple-barbed fishhooks caught on the underside of its wing. Lacking any other way of catching it, I pulled off my sweater and used it like a net to toss over the duck's wings and head so I could pick it up and carry it to a nearby vet. The woman at the desk admitted the duck and — as I stood there in my bra — asked me if I needed my sweater back. Oops. That's how instinctual my desire to hold and help this animal was. And I know I'm not the only one who has been there.
If we as humans crave a connection with other animals and believe that building relationships with some of the wonderful creatures who share this earth with us is part of our humanity, it doesn't make sense to have hard and fast rules that separate us from them.
So how should we interact with wildlife? The best answer is "Do it mindfully."
The Internet makes it darn easy to find out about all kinds of urban critters. It'll tell you that scruffy looking little bird hopping about under the bushes is probably a fledgling and its parents have their eyes on it. Or about those birds making a racket up your chimney or what the large bees want with your back door. You can learn what's harmful to them and what's helpful. And, of course, it's best to call local wildlife experts for help if you see a hurt animal.
Sharing the world with animals does involve stepping back, but it takes stepping forward too. Thanks for the inspiration João!
(Note the translation below.)