In the dead of winter, just walking from your car to the front door may seem like a hardship. It’s difficult to imagine wild animals that have to live in those conditions all day. Is it really bad to put out food for wild animals like raccoons?
Feeding raccoons is a bad idea as it will habituate them to certain areas, and make them dependent on a food source. Feeding wild animals puts them close to human proximity, which puts strain and pressure on the animal, raising the risk of accidents and possible aggression from the animal.
So, what exactly are the consequences of feeding a wild raccoon? We’ll cover everything you need to know about feeding wild raccoons, and what happens when you feed them. First, let’s go over some general reasons why you should never feed wildlife.
Why You Should Never Feed Wild Raccoons
Wildlife managers and conservation officers often find one of the most difficult parts of their job is dealing with human-wildlife interactions. We live in a world of technology where getting a selfie with a wild animal has become a serious problem.
In the Yellowstone National Park Pledge, they have even added a section about practicing safe selfies.
This craze is thought to have come about due to feeding wild animals and habituating them to the presence of humans. When animals lose their fear of humans, they tend to hang around people more often, giving us that ‘once in a lifetime‘ photo opportunity.
Feeding wild animals, specifically wild raccoons, can create problems in a couple different ways:
- Animals will become habituated. Feeding wild animals gives them a free source of food. If they keep getting fed, they’ll keep coming back. Soon, they’ll become very comfortable with being around people. If they happen to encounter other humans, they may think the animal sick because it has no fear.
- Most food lacks needed nutrition. Wild animals like raccoons require certain nutrition to survive. If an easy meal is given to them, they’re unlikely to forage somewhere else and can become malnourished.
- Feeding interrupts normal migration. Many animals migrate to secure a better source of food. If they are being fed, they may not migrate. If the food is suddenly taken away, they will be out of a food source and stuck where natural food is scarce.
- Feeding areas attract large groups of animals. Feeding stations will attract large numbers of certain species. If they are originally from different areas, they can spread diseases to other groups, such as deer wasting disease among white-tailed deer.
These are some of the main reasons why you should never feed wild raccoons. They may seem hungry, and it can be especially heartbreaking to see a raccoon trundling around in the snow, digging for frozen acorns.
But the truth is, wild animals are designed to survive in harsh conditions. When food is scarce, animals will change their diets to include bark, pine cones, buried acorns, old fruit, and in a raccoon’s case, even garbage to survive.
Let’s take a look at our masked bandit raccoon, and discuss why feeding a wild raccoon might not be the greatest idea.
Why Is Feeding a Wild Raccoon a Bad Idea?
Raccoons can seem amusing to many people. Their peculiarly dexterous paws get them into places they usually shouldn’t be: dumpsters, trash bins, attics, chimneys, and chicken coops to name a few.
Although they may seem adorable, you really don’t want raccoons hanging around your house. Here are a few reasons why:
Just like ants ruining a picnic when you’ve spilled some jam on the ground, raccoons will not hesitate to ruin your roofing to get into your attic, especially if you put food out for them.
A reliable source of food and shelter over their head is a raccoon’s dream home. By feeding a wild raccoon, you are unintentionally inviting them into your home or outbuilding.
The chances of them moving in rent-free increases if you live by any water sources such as a stream, lake, or pond. Raccoons get a lot of their food from shallow water animals such as crayfish and clams.
Relocation Is Illegal in Most States
If you begin feeding a raccoon and another one shows up, and then another…before you know it you have ten raccoons coming around regularly to be fed.
The problem with this is, if you find the issue gets out of hand, the raccoons cannot simply be trapped and relocated. Most states will not allow this due to the chance of the raccoons spreading disease to raccoons of other regions.
Therefore, if you find yourself drowning in raccoons and call a wildlife professional, they will likely have to eliminate the animals for the safety of other raccoon populations.
What Happens If You Feed Wild Raccoons?
Similar to most wildlife, feeding wild raccoons will almost always result in harm to the raccoon. It may be entertaining, and get your account a lot of likes on social media, but it’s not helping the situation by normalizing interactions between people and wildlife.
Raccoons can become malnourished if they don’t eat a proper diet of mixed fruit, vegetable, meat, nuts, and seeds. Putting out acorns or other common food items that raccoons eat could cause them to quit foraging for other foods they need to remain healthy.
Raccoons that are closer to human dwellings are also at a higher risk of vehicular collision due to their close proximity to roads.
In the end, feeding a wild raccoon usually results in the animal having to be rehabilitated or, more likely, eliminated because it cannot survive in the wild on its own or cannot be relocated.
Conclusion: Don’t Feed the Wildlife!
We’ve all seen tragedies on the news that happens when people get too close to wildlife. From bison attacks to mountain goat charges on the slopes of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, there are plenty of examples of why getting close to wildlife isn’t a great idea.
To recap, feeding raccoons and other wildlife is a bad idea for these reasons:
- Feeding habituates raccoons to certain areas, making them lose their fear of humans.
- Wild animals fed by humans can easily become malnourished.
- Feeding wild animals can interrupt their normal migration patterns.
- Feeding attracts large groups of raccoons from all different areas. This can spread diseases that are transmitted between the animals.
- Feeding increases the chance of vehicular accidents.
- Raccoons that are fed are more likely to move into your home or outbuilding.
Dale F. Lott (1988) Feeding Wild Animals: The Urge, the Interaction, and the Consequences, Anthrozoös, 1:4, 255-257, DOI: 10.2752/089279388787058326
Dubois, S., & Fraser, D. (2013). A Framework to Evaluate Wildlife Feeding in Research, Wildlife Management, Tourism and Recreation. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI, 3(4), 978–994. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani3040978
Orams, M. B. (2002). Feeding Wildlife as a tourism attraction: a review of issues and impacts. In M. B. Orams, Tourism Management (pp. 281-293). North Shore MSC: Coastal-Marine Research Group.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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