Observing wild animals is rewarding. Many people are attracted to places that offer such opportunities and encourage closer contact by offering food. Animals can become used to people and soon learn to take advantage of food scraps and offerings. Though this is usually done with good intent, feeding wild animals can upset the balance of nature and the Department of Parks and Wildlife strongly advises against feeding wild animals.
Wildlife can still be encouraged to live in or visit gardens or properties by providing and maintaining areas of suitable natural habitat harbouring natural food sources. Animals can still become used to the presence of people without being fed, allowing people to observe wild animals at close proximity without unnecessary interference.
Providing a regular artificial food source can lead to too many animals living in an area, putting extra pressure on natural food sources. For example, grazing pressure from kangaroos may lead to the loss of plant species such as orchids. Birds or kangaroos attracted by artificial food sources could cause significant damage to crops on surrounding farmland.
An unnatural concentration of animals can provide a focal point for outbreaks of highly transmissible diseases that can kill large numbers of animals. Some diseases such as Salmonella, Toxoplasmosis, Psitticosis and E. coli infections are transmissible to people through exposure to faeces and urine and direct contact.
Increasing numbers of animals in one area can lead to unnaturally high incidents of aggression by animals. For example, encounters between bandicoots, which are normally solitary, often lead to aggression. Aggression may also result from competing for food offerings. Sometimes species such as currawongs and ravens can become so numerous that they drive other species away by aggressive behaviour or by preying on them or their young. The stress and injuries associated with aggression may lead to disease and failure to breed. Some aggression may even be directed at people.
Predators such as hawks and owls may be attracted by the increase in animals. Predator numbers may then become unnaturally high and lead to increased predation in the immediate vicinity but also on animal populationand even in surrounding areas where animal populations were at naturally sustainable levels.
Food that is offered to animals may be highly processed, and could be detrimental to their health, lead to disease and reduce their ability to bear offspring.
Contact your local Parks and Wildlife office, the Wildcare Helpline on (08) 9474 9055 or the department’s Nature Protection Brach on (08) 9219 9840.