The growing trend of humans feeding wild animals poses a serious risk to the well-being of humans and wildlife as new research from University College Dublin shows that these feeding interactions may fuel the artificial selection of harassment behaviors in some species.
In a study based on the fallow deer population in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, the largest walled park in a European capital and with about 10 million visitors a year, researchers at UCD found that fawns born to mothers who consistently begged for food were significantly heavier than those whose mothers rarely approached visitors.
Each of the 134 fawns measured came from the same herds, spread over the same grazing areas, and all came from mothers who were equally likely to interact with humans, with begging behavior being the defining difference that such a birth weight difference could be. cause.
The research, published in the Journal of Animal Ecologyassociates this begging behavior trait with those animals with bolder personality types, which lead author Laura Griffin says may cause some animals to become more aggressive when it comes to getting food.
“There is a high risk of this herd becoming highly habituated over time because of the artificial selection we highlighted here,” said the researcher from the UCD Laboratory of Wildlife Ecology and Behavior.
“In other words, if measures are not taken, in 10 years you could end up with deer consistently harassing people, as the boldest individuals have been selected, clearly posing enormous risks to the people and animals involved.”
Adding: “It also stands to reason that if this occurs in this population, it is very likely to be the case in other populations and species as well.”
The survey found that the entire deer population in Phoenix Park fell into three categories: consistent beggars, occasional beggars, and rare beggars, with about 24% of the population consistently begging for food.
Unsurprisingly, those deer that begged more were fed the greatest amount of human food — including bread, chips, carrots, apples and biscuits, leading them to follow a drastically different diet than those classified as rare and occasional beggars.
Feeding the deer in Phoenix Park has been banned by the Office of Public Works, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of visits to the park and interaction with the deer.
The impacts on the health and welfare of the animals are many, according to Laura, with the behavior raising concerns about changes in animals’ natural behavior, increased stress and impacts on their health.
For example, the artificial feeding of rhesus monkeys in India has led to behaviors not normally seen in the wild, such as the animals rushing to attack each other to obtain food from humans.
The increased audacity that has resulted has also made it difficult to remove the animals from areas bustling with human activity, as they refuse to leave until food is provided.
In Japan, deer in Nara Park, a popular tourist attraction in the city of Nara that is home to 1,200 free-roaming wild deer, in 2019 more than 200 people were injured by the animals, prompting authorities to issue strict safety guidelines to prevent further injuries. to prevent.
“Hand-feeding wild animals has become increasingly popular lately,” Laura said. “[With] people often say that it allows them to feel a connection with these animals, that they think they are helping them in some way, and that it makes for good content on their social media accounts. In fact, videos and photos of people feeding wildlife often go viral on various social media platforms.
“Nevertheless, it is fundamental that we pause to explore how these interactions affect the wildlife involved, especially as these interactions are typically self-motivated, and work to test methods aimed at mitigating their impact through of public education, which can also be applied to other sites experiencing similar interactions.”
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Laura L. Griffin et al, Artificial selection in human-nature interactions, Journal of Animal Ecology (2022). DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.13771
Provided by University College Dublin
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