One of the main reasons animals die in the wild is lack of food and water. Moreover, during food shortages those who don’t starve to death suffer from malnourishment and hunger, as well as thirst.1 However, it would be perfectly feasible to help many of these animals.
Many people install wild animal feeders simply because they like watching the animals who come to eat at them (such as those who enjoy birdwatching). In other cases, feeders are installed by hunters who want to attract certain animals that they value or to keep them alive to hunt later. In other cases, though, people install feeders and buy food for animals simply because they care about them.
It is sometimes argued that feeding animals who are living in the wild does more harm than good. Those who make this argument often have in mind what might benefit ecosystems, and not individual animals. And what is good for an ecosystem can be very bad for the individual animals within it if it entails suffering from hunger and in other ways as explained in Population dynamics and animal suffering.
Another concern is that feeding some animals now may lead to greater reproduction of these animals and more animals starving later. This may be a reasonable concern in some cases, and it can be avoided if feeding the animals is combined with taking measures so the animals we save from dying do not reproduce.2 This can be done by administering contraceptives to the animals whose lives have been saved, so no one has to starve in order for their population not to grow.
Some people have an unrealistic view of nature, imagining that the animals in the wild have wonderful lives and do not need our help. Humans very often intervene to feed animals in the wild even if they do not care about the animals themselves but instead have conservationist purposes, such as the conservation of a certain species which is particularly appealing to human beings.3 To achieve such purposes, animals in the wild are regularly fed in many places.
In lots of other cases, though, humans deal with the problem of animals starving in the wild in terrible ways, often by killing them. In a case in Zimbabwe, elephants and impalas were massacred for this reason. In an awful case in Kenya, zebras were rounded up to be taken to lions for them to eat (this was done for economic reasons, so that there would be enough lions for tourists to see). However, there are many other cases in which people act ethically by feeding starving animals. Some examples can be found here:
Efforts to help wild animals have also been carried out traditionally in some places. In different communities in North India there is a tradition of caring for animals in the wild, which includes providing them with food:
Many of us are actually in a position to save animals from suffering from hunger and starvation. Here are some very basic instructions explaining ways of doing so:
Lack of access to clean water is another source of suffering and a serious risk to the health and lives of animals. Wild animals can also be aided when they need water, and it’s often easy to do. Some campaigns have been carried out to provide water to stray animals, such as this one in Argentina by antispeciesist activists. And this has also been done in the wild, through the creation of ponds or reed bed construction for water cleaning.4
In doing this we should be careful, however, not to increase the suffering of other animals. When ponds are created, some animals might drown, or it might increase the reproduction of certain animals who parasitize upon others who breed in ponds, or it may increase the reproduction of r-strategist animals such as mosquitoes and other insects in ways that cause many of them come into existence only to die painfully shortly afterwards due to lack of resources.
Bartoskewitz, M. L.; Hewitt, D. G.; Pitts, J. S. & Bryant, F. C. (2003) “Supplemental feed use by free-ranging white-tailed deer in southern Texas”, Wildlife Society Bulletin, 31, pp. 1218-1228.
Boutin, S. (1990) “Food supplementation experiments with terrestrial vertebrates: Patterns, problems, and the future”, Canadian Journal of Zoology, 68, pp. 203-220.
Brittingham, M. C. & Temple, S. A. (1988) “Impacts of supplemental feeding on survival rates of black-capped chickadees”, Ecology, 69, pp. 581-589.
Cannon, A. R.; Chamberlain, D. E.; Toms, M. P.; Hatchwell, B. J. & Gaston, K. J. (2005) “Trends in the use of private gardens by wild birds in Great Britain 1995–2002”, Journal of Applied Ecology, 42, pp. 659-671.
Catterall, C. P. (2004) “Birds, garden plants and suburban bushlots: where good intentions meet unexpected outcomes”, in Burger, S. K. & Lunney, D. (eds.) Urban wildlife: More than meets the eye, Sidney: Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, pp. 21-31.
Chamberlain, D. E.; Vickery, J. A.; Glue, D. E.; Robinson, R. A.; Conway, G. J.; Woodburn, R. J. & Cannon, A. R. (2005) “Annual and seasonal trends in the use of garden feeders by birds in winter”, Ibis, 147, pp. 563-575.
Chapman, R. & Jones, D. N. (2009) “Just feeding the ducks: Quantifying a common wildlife–human interaction”, Sunbird, 39, pp. 19-28.
Chapman, R. & Jones, D. N. (2011) “Foraging by native and domestic ducks in urban lakes: Behavioural implications of all that bread”, Corella, 35, pp. 101-106.
Dubois, S. & Fraser, D. (2013) “A framework to evaluate wildlife feeding in research, wildlife management, tourism and recreation”, Animals, 3, pp. 978-994 [accessed on 12 June 2014].
Fleischer, A. L.; Bowman, R. & Woolfenden, G. E. (2003) “Variation in foraging behaviour, diet and time of breeding in Florida Scrub-Jays in suburban and wildland habitats”, Condor, 105, pp. 515-527.
Ishigame, G.; Baxter, G. S. & Lisle, A. T. (2006) “Effects of artificial foods on the blood chemistry of the Australian Magpie”, Austral Ecology, 31, pp. 199-207.
Miller, R.; Kaneene, J. B.; Fitzgerald, S. D.; Schmitt, S. M. (2003) “Evaluation of the influence of supplemental feeding of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) on the prevalence of bovine tuberculosis in the Michigan wild deer population”, Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 39, pp. 84-95.
O’Leary, R. & Jones, D. N. (2006) “The use of supplementary foods by Australian magpies (Gymnorhina tibicen): Implications for wildlife feeding in suburban environments”, Austral Ecology, 31, pp. 208-216.
Ottoni, I.; de Oliveira, F. F. & Yound, R. J. (2009) “Estimating the diet of urban birds: the problems of anthropogenic food and food digestibility”, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 117, pp. 42-46.
Partridge, S. T.; Nolte, D. L.; Ziegltrum, G. J. & Robbins, C. T. (2001) “Impacts of supplemental feeding on the nutritional ecology of black bears”, Journal of Wildlife Management, 65, pp. 191-199.
Plummer, K. E.; Bearhop, S.; Leech, D. I.; Chamberlain, D. E. & Blount, J. D. (2013a) “Fat provisioning in winter impairs egg production during the following spring: A landscape-scale study of blue tits”, Journal of Animal Ecology, 82, pp. 673-682.
Robbins, C. T. (1983) Wildlife feeding and nutrition, Orlando: Academic Press.
Saggese, K.; Korner-Nievergelt, F.; Slagsvold, T. & Amrhein, V. (2011) “Wild bird feeding delays start of dawn singing in the great tit”, Animal Behaviour, 81, pp. 361-365.
Smith, B. L. (2001) “Winter feeding of elk in western North America”, Journal of Wildlife Management, 65, pp. 173-190.
Smith, J. A.; Harrison, T. J.; Martin, G. R. & Reynolds, S. J. (2013) “Feathering the nest: Food supplementation influences nest construction by Blue (Cyanistes caeruleus) and Great Tits (Parus major)”, Avian Biology Research, 6, pp. 18-25.
Southwick, C. H.; Siddioi, M. F.; Farooqui, M. & Pal, B. C. (1976) “Effects of artificial feeding on aggressive of rhesus monkeys in India”, Animal Behaviour, 24, pp. 11-15.
Sullivan, T. P.; Sullivan, D. S. & Krebs, C. J. (1983) “Demographic responses of a chipmunk (Eutamias townsendii) population with supplemental food”, Journal of Animal Ecology, 52, pp. 743-755 [accessed on 14 June 2014].
Turner, J. W., Jr.; Liu, I. K. M.; Flanagan, D. R.; Rutberg, A. T. & Kirkpatrick, J. F. (2001) “Immunocontraception in feral horses: One inoculation provides one year of infertility”, Journal of Wildlife Management, 65, pp. 235-241.
Venkatachalam, M. & Sathe, S. K. (2006) “Chemical composition of selected edible nut seeds”, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 54, pp. 4705-4714.
Ward, J. M. & Kennedy, P. L. (1996) “Effects of supplemental food on size and survival of juvenile Northern Goshawks”, The Auk, 113, pp. 200-208.
Wrangham, R. W. (1974) “Artificial feeding of chimpanzees and baboons in their natural habitat”, Animal Behaviour, 22, pp. 83-93.
1 McNamara, J. M. & Houston, A. I. (1987) “Starvation and predation as factors limiting population size”, Ecology, 68, pp. 1515-1519. Holmes, J. C. (1995) “Population regulation: A dynamic complex of interactions”, Wildlife Research, 22, pp. 11-19. Zimmerman, D. (2009) “Starvation and malnutrition in wildlife”, Indiana Wildlife Disease News, 4 (1), pp. 1-7 [accessed on 19 October 2013]. McCue, M. D. (2010) “Starvation physiology: Reviewing the different strategies animals use to survive a common challenge”, Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology, 156, pp. 1-18.
2 Kallander, H. (1981) “The effects of provision of food in winter on a population of the great tit Parus major and the blue tit P. caeruleus”, Ornis Scandinavica, 12, pp. 244-248 [accessed on 29 May 2013]. Lott, D. F. (1996) “Feeding wild animals: The urge, the interaction and the consequences”, Anthrozoös, 4, pp. 232-236. Cooper, S. M. & Ginnett, T. F. (2000) “Potential effects of supplemental feeding of deer on nest predation”, Wildlife Society Bulletin, 28, pp. 660-666. Schoech, S. J.; Bowman, R. & Reynolds, S. J. (2004) “Food supplementation and possible mechanisms underlying early breeding in the Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens)”, Hormones and Behavior, 46, pp. 565-573. Robb, G. N.; McDonald, R. A.; Chamberlain, D. E.; Reynolds, S. J.; Harrison, T. J. & Bearhop, S. (2008) “Winter feeding of birds increases productivity in the subsequent breeding season”, Biology Letters, 4, pp. 220-223 [accessed on 2 February 2014]. Orros, M. E. & Fellowes, M. D. E. (2012) “Supplementary feeding of wild birds indirectly affects the local abundance of arthropod prey”, Basic and Applied Ecology, 13, pp. 286-293. Plummer, K. E.; Bearhop, S.; Leech, D. I.; Chamberlain, D. E. & Blount, J. D. (2013b) “Winter food provisioning reduces future breeding performance in a wild bird”, Scientific Reports, 3 [accessed on 15 February 2014]. Jones, D. (2011) “An appetite for connection: Why we need to understand the effect and value of feeding wild birds”, Emu: Austral Ornithology, 111, pp. i-vii [accessed on 14 June 2014].
3 Brittingham, M. C. & Temple, S. A. (1992) “Does winter feeding promote dependency?”, Journal of Field Ornithology, 63, pp. 190-194. Marion, J.; Dvorak, R. & Manning, R.E. (2008) “Wildlife feeding in parks: Methods for monitoring the effectiveness of educational interventions and wildlife food attraction behaviors”, Human Dimensions of Wildlife, 13, pp. 429-442.
4 Nepal Mountain News (2011) “Quenching wildlife thirst by pumping ground water”, Nepal Mountain News, 9 December [accessed on 12 February 2013]. Wildpro (2010a) “Pond construction – Concrete (managing wetlands for wildlife – implementing management plan)”, Wildpro.twycrosszoo.org [accessed on 25 February 2013]; (2010b) “Pond construction (synthetic liner): (Managing wetlands for wildlife – implementing management plan)”, Wildpro.twycrosszoo.org [accessed on 26 February 2013]; (2010c) “Reedbed construction for water cleaning (managing wetlands for wildlife – implementing management plan)”, Wildpro.twycrosszoo.org [accessed on 24 February 2013].