DOW: Don’t feed the wild animals |

DOW: Don’t feed the wild animals

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is urging people not to feed game animals such as deer, elk and bighorn sheep, because doing so can bring more harm than good to the animals.

The practice of feeding wild animals has been illegal since 1992, and DOW officials cite many reasons for the prohibition. Feeding can spread disease or cause digestive problems for the animals. It can also lure them into a dependency on humans and can lead to property damage and highway accidents.

DOW personnel sometimes feed game animals, but only under extremely harsh winter conditions, when substantial numbers of animals are threatened with starvation. In all other conditions, wildlife officials say, big-game animals are better off left to get their food from the natural environment.

Feeding can promote the spread of disease among animals in a herd, according to DOW officials. The normal feeding behavior of elk and mule deer herds is to spread out across an area to graze or browse. Feeding by humans causes animals to crowd together, increasing their chances of spreading disease among themselves.

In addition, the digestive systems of deer and elk are not normally conditioned for eating high-protein grains and hay. Game animals frequently have difficulty digesting such food, and it can become stuck in their digestive tracts and create toxins, causing illness and death.

Dependency on human handouts can be a problem, especially when fawns, elk calves or bighorn lambs still dependent on their mothers learn this faulty behavior instead of learning how to forage successfully.

And, game animals attracted to residential and business areas by feeding are often sitting ducks for automobile traffic.

“Animals quickly learn who is putting out food, and they’ll travel there several times a day to feed,” said Liza Moore, a district manager for the DOW. “That travel can take them across a busy roadway, endangering the animals and people driving on the road.”

Game animals attracted to residential areas can be destructive, too. In residential yards, deer and elk can damage vegetation. Elk will eat the bark of young aspen trees and both species will eat twigs, shrubs and other landscaping.

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