Steeves/Trail Mix: Don't kill wildlife with kindness

Feeding wildlife can be hazardous to your health. - Judie Steeves/Capital News
Feeding wildlife can be hazardous to your health.
— image credit: Judie Steeves/Capital News

If you’ve ever read Bambi or any of the many stories about cute bandit-faced raccoons, you’d probably not expect either one to turn and attack you—but that’s exactly what’s been happening in recent months.

Bambi has a fawn or two and she knows that given half a chance a coyote will attack and kill her offspring and eat it for lunch. So, from that perspective, it’s not surprising that she’s taken a dislike to dogs, who look, smell and walk much like coyotes.

And, in fact, dogs have been known to chase deer and kill fawns too.

If the dog happens to be with a human doesn’t much matter. A mother will die herself to protect her youngster.

And, that’s been happening in the Kootenays as well as right here in the Okanagan, where urban deer—neighbourhood deer—those accustomed to the sight and smell and food of humans, have become too comfortable around we who walk on two legs.

We’re willing to accept their presence as long as they’re just passing by, but when they invade our gardens, attack our pets and threaten our well-being, we draw the line.

Dogs have been severely injured by the sharp hooves of an aggressive doe protecting her fawn, who now thinks your garden is her banquet table.

She may even have been born in the corner of your garden, grown up dodging cars on your residential street, and is now having her fawns under your bedroom window.

But, she knows the danger posed by your dog and will assertively protect herself and her young from it, even if that means harming you and your dog in the process.

Some Kootenay communities have instituted deer culls to reduce the number of urban deer because human life is being threatened by them.

Yet, it’s something we’ve created ourselves by taming them; by feeding them; by providing some protection from natural predators such as cougars, who are reluctant to approach human homes, and simply by encouraging them to lose their natural fear of humans.

So when they do what’s natural, is it fair for us to take them out?

There’s not much option if they’re behaving in a threatening way, but we must also stop doing what we do that’s attracting them out of the wild.

It’s the same with other wild animals.


Raccoons are nocturnal. They see very well at night and normally they feed at night rather than during the day, so there’s something not quite right about seeing one scavenging for food during the daytime.

Most people envision them as fuzzy, gentle animals with their characteristic ringed tails and black mask on the face, so perhaps there’s a tendency to want to domesticate them by providing bits of food to entice them to hang around.

What we’re doing, though, is encouraging un-natural behaviour for our own entertainment, and it’s bound to backfire at some point.

That appears to have been what happened last week in downtown Vancouver when a woman walking her dogs was attacked by a raccoon neighbours say was being fed by another neighbour.

I’ve watched near Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park as people fed the raccoons and thought to myself what a mistake that was.

Raccoons have long claws and sharp teeth and they can be vicious as well as gentle.

This raccoon showed the mean side of her personality when she spotted the woman with her dogs last week and when she didn’t want to feed her.

She’d lost her natural fear of man and she turned on the woman and her dogs, scratching and biting as she attacked her—and as her young looked on.

Like the deer in the Kootenays, her days were numbered from that first hiss.

We’ve been told over and over again that a fed bear is a dead bear because once he associates humans with an easy food supply, he has lost his fear of man, and if he doesn’t get what he wants as easily as he’s become accustomed to, he’ll become more and more aggressive until one day, you’ll turn around and find him ripping apart your kitchen garbage—in your kitchen.

The answer is to not feed wild animals; to not encourage them to hang around people and not be comfortable around humans, as much fun as that may be, for awhile…

Keep them wild and let them live.

Judie Steeves writes about outdoors issues for the Capital News












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