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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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