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Feeding foxes not an act of kindness

The foxes on the hill leading to Long Point Lighthouse in Twilingate appear to be reliant on humans for food.
The foxes on the hill leading to Long Point Lighthouse in Twilingate appear to be reliant on humans for food. - Contributed

Providing food for wild animals puts them at risk

TWILLINGATE, N.L. — Feeding the foxes by Long Point Lighthouse has recently become a pastime and photo opportunity for many local residents. Unfortunately, their kind gesture could lead to disaster for the fox family.

Eric Vander Wal, assistant professor of Wildlife Biology at Memorial University, is always concerned when people provide food for wild animals.

“Even though people want to do something good, they want to help, it’s not great for the foxes,” Vander Wal said. “They become habituated, and then, if the food stops, they don’t have anything to eat.”

The foxes on the hill leading to Long Point Lighthouse in Twilingate appear to be reliant on humans for food.
The foxes on the hill leading to Long Point Lighthouse in Twilingate appear to be reliant on humans for food.

It causes particular problems for fox kits who miss out on the opportunity to learn from their mothers when they are being fed by humans.

“The pups or kits are going to become habituated to being fed,” Vander Wal said. “They are probably not going to know how to hunt for food.”

He says altering how foxes get their food affects the whole ecosystem.

“There is enough food on the landscape for the number of foxes on that landscape,” Vander Wal explained. “There are certain numbers of the things that foxes eat, that means that there should be a certain number of foxes.

“If you feed wildlife, you increase their population. Their numbers are no longer proportional to their natural prey.”

When there is not enough prey for the fox population, a certain number of foxes will starve.

Ultimately, while feeding the foxes feels like a kindness, it does not help them in the long run.

“No one who feeds wildlife is trying to be malicious, but it’s not good for the wildlife,” Vander Wal said. “It’s great to respectfully observe wildlife, but we have to respect that they are wild.”

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