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5 Reasons to Not Feed the Wildlife While Camping

5 Reasons to Not Feed the Wildlife While Camping

While it might seem cool to post a picture of a wild animal eating out of your hand on social media, the consequences of doing such can be severe. Not only are you potentially putting yourself, your pets, or others in danger, but you may also be damaging a fragile ecosystem. Today, we’re looking at the top reasons not to feed wildlife while camping or hiking in nature.

chipmunk eating apple core
While chipmunks love apple cores, these shouldn’t be left on the trail or in your campsite.

Keep Your Food to Yourself

Eating outdoors, roasting marshmallows, and packing picnic lunches are all part of the camping experience. However, the more often you take food outside, the more diligent you have to be when cleaning up your area. 

Enjoy those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the side of a mountain, but don’t leave your trash for the wildlife to find. Savor those s’mores around the campfire, but don’t leave a box of graham crackers outside overnight.

Let’s look at why this is dangerous – for both you and the animals.

Why You Shouldn't Feed Wild Animals

5 Reasons Not to Feed the Wildlife While Camping

If fear of a bear attack isn’t enough to keep you from feeding the wildlife while camping, here are five additional reasons to keep your food to yourself. Don’t try to get that perfect photo to share on Instagram, and don’t be lazy about cleaning up.

Keep yourself, your loved ones, and other campers safe while protecting nature’s animals.

1. You Might Get Too Close to the Animals

Anytime you try to feed wildlife, you risk getting too close. No one wants to try to feed an alligator in Florida or a black bear in North Carolina and then lose a limb in the process. You could slip and fall.

If you do, you could get hurt and not get back up. If you have food, the animals will come towards you, and you certainly don’t want that if you’re lying on the ground, unable to move.

Tom from Mortons on the Move watching wildlife
It is always wise to watch wildlife from a safe distance.

2. Potential for Malnourishment or Death

When a bear is rewarded with food during an encounter with people, it’s considered a food-conditioned bear. John Hechtel, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, explains that 95% of food-conditioned bears have to be killed.

Another biologist, Dick Shideler, explains that “once a bear associates people with food, it becomes a potential threat to all people in any future encounters.” Bears will also rely on human food instead of foraging in the wild, leading to starvation. So when you feed bears, whether intentionally or unintentionally, it’s potentially fatal.

Pro Tip: Do you love looking at wildlife? Find out more about What Is a National Wildlife Refuge?

3. They Can Lose Their Fear of People

Most of the time, wild animals fear people and stay away from crowds. Just like in “Bambi,” animals can sense when danger is present, and when humans come around, they sense it.

However, they can lose that healthy fear if they think that people are a food source. This can lead to all kinds of problems like bears and deer entering campsites and possibly damaging vehicles or spreading disease. Wild animals should fear humans, so let’s keep it that way.

Wild coyote walking in wildlife.
Avoid feeding wildlife to keep yourself and the wildlife safe.

4. Increased Risk of Disease Transmission

Scientists have found that about 60% of diseases are transmitted from animals to humans. Rabies is one of the most common. Raccoons, foxes, wolves, and skunks are just a handful of the animals that can spread rabies. 

When campers feed the wildlife, they’re putting themselves at risk of getting a disease because those animals could easily bite their hands. And even if the campers who feed the wildlife escape unharmed, the wild animals will come back to that campground or approach other people later, thus putting them in danger of getting bitten.

5. They Can Become Dependant on Us

Wild animals have learned to survive on their own. They aren’t dependent on humans. However, if people feed them, they could lose their predatory skills or other innate skills to find food.

They’ll just rummage through the campground looking for food campers have left out. Or they’ll stalk hiking trails waiting for hikers to come by to give them food. This is not the way wild animals should behave.

And if the food source is gone, will they be able to return to the wild and search for food on their own?

How to Protect Your Food From Nosy Animals

Sometimes campers don’t intentionally feed wild animals. Occasionally, animals show up at campsites because they know where the dumpsters are located or previous campers have fed them. So, you need to know how to protect your food when camping.

Let’s take a look at a few tips!

Tom from Mortons on the Move in front of deer in forest.
Always keep your campsite clean to avoid animals getting into your food and garbage.

Clean Up Your Campsite

Keeping your campsite clean and free of food is priority number one. If you cook hotdogs over a fire and one falls in, get it out and throw it away. Don’t leave it in the fire pit.

If you eat a bag of chips and drop some on the ground, make sure to pick them up. Any food left outside will attract wild animals.

Roll Up Your Car Windows

Even if your campsite is clean, wild animals may try to get into your car if they smell deodorant, perfume, or gum inside. Bears are notorious for breaking into cars.

Make sure you lock your doors and roll up your windows. Try to clean out your car of any items with a strong smell, as this also attracts animals.

Wild bear walking along the road.
Always use a bear canister on a camping trip to avoid any wildlife sneaking into your stash.

Use a Bear Canister

Another way to deter bears is to use a bear canister. These bear-resistant food containers don’t just keep out the bears but also other rodents who may get into your food.

This is especially important when tent camping. Wild animals won’t return if they can’t get into your food.

Teach Your Kids Not to Share

Although we teach kids at an early age how to share with others, it’s just as important to teach them not to share with animals. It’s sweet that a three-year-old wants to share her Cheerios with a skunk, but no one will want to deal with the effects of that encounter.

Keep a close eye on your children when camping and hiking to make sure they don’t leave food crumbs or attempt to feed the wildlife.

Pro Tip: Apart from not feeding the wildlife, make sure you don’t break any of these 11 National Park Etiquette Rules.

Wildlife Safety 101: Tips and best practices for recreating near wildlife

A Fed Bear Is a Dead Bear

A bear seeking human food becomes a nuisance and is usually killed or removed from the area. If removed, the bear will eventually die of starvation because it has been conditioned to eat human food and no longer enjoys the wild berries and fish it used to eat. Don’t encourage this behavior. 

Keep your food inside your campers, keep your tent areas clean, and don’t share your food with animals. You’re not only protecting your life and the lives of other campers, but you’re also saving the wildlife.

Have you had a scary encounter with a wild animal? Tell us your story in the comments below!

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About Mortons on the Move

Tom & Caitlin Morton of Mortons on the Move gave up the stationary life for one where they are constantly on the move. They are full-time travelers, television hosts, and digital media producers.
They left their jobs, sold their house and possessions, and hit the road in September 2015 in their full-time “home on wheels”. Since then they have traveled the US, Canada, and even internationally by RV.
Now, they are Discovery Channel & PBS TV Co-stars of The RVers, producers of “Go North” on Amazon Prime, co-founders and instructors of RV Masterclass, and contributing authors for Hwy.co and an Arizona travel guide.

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