A glimpse of a red fox trotting across an urban lot or a coyote peering from a forest edge can be an exhilarating encounter. A hint of the wild in urban and suburban areas is a privilege to be treasured. However, our enjoyment of these encounters depends on their frequency, proximity, and other circumstances.
As urban areas expand, wildlife habitats are rapidly disappearing. Some species may adapt to human-altered landscapes and hold their own, occasionally flourishing in the remaining pockets of green. Often, we are unaware of their presence. Their natural wariness of humans causes them to vanish upon our approach.
Human habits can also teach animals to alter their natural behaviour. Bird feeders have encouraged once shy birds to avail themselves of our generosity. Most squirrels have lost any timidity they once had, and while many people enjoy their antics, others are less enthralled with these rascals as they dig in gardens and chew up freshly planted bulbs. Yet, despite their ability to annoy, squirrels are unlikely to pose a threat. Larger predators, on the other hand, can create some serious problems.
Bears, foxes, and coyotes readily adapt to the presence of people when enticed with pet food, badly stored garbage, or-even worse-direct handouts. If they learn to associate humans with food, they lose their natural fear of us. Conflict becomes inevitable. Even if no one gets hurt, the animal pays the ultimate price. Any large predator that becomes a nuisance or that poses a potential threat to people is likely to be killed. By feeding these animals, either intentionally or through negligence, we contribute to their downfall.
Protecting and enhancing habitat is the best way to help untamed creatures thrive. By providing them with natural sources of food, water, and shelter, we allow them to prosper in their natural environment and to coexist peacefully with us.