AVALON, Calif. – Catalina has spectacular opportunities to view wildlife. Between the thriving marine ecosystem and vibrant landscape, numerous species find refuge on and around the Island.
To keep the island’s wildlife healthy, it’s essential that it not be fed by humans. Feeding wildlife changes natural behaviors, including feeding and migration activities. It also decreases their willingness to forage for food on their own.
Carnivores, such as the endemic Catalina Island fox, typically invest six to 12 months teaching their young how to hunt so they will be self-reliant once they disperse from their parents’ territory. Animals who are being fed by humans are not receiving the valuable parental teaching time they need to hone their skills and may find themselves inept at hunting on their own and unable to survive.
Often times, the items that are fed to wild animals don’t contain the nutrients they need or can be contaminated or spoiled. Ruminants, such as deer, rely on the microorganisms in their gut to obtain nutrients, and it may take three weeks or more for those microbes to adjust to a new food source. Deer, therefore, can eat until their stomachs are full but still starve to death due to a nutrient deficiency when microbes don’t have enough time to adjust.
Wild animals naturally fear people. Humans feeding them can cause the wild animals to lose their natural wariness of humans. In those cases, they can become aggressive, and they have been known to injure people. Increased human interaction also results in higher stress levels, which increase the animal’s metabolism and decrease the effectiveness of their immune system.
Animals fed by humans are drawn to roadways where they may be killed by vehicles. Fed animals also tend to cluster unnaturally and are subject to density-dependent diseases and competitive aggression.
Additionally, feeding wildlife is a violation of California Fish and Wildlife laws. Under Title 14 Section 251.1 of the California Code of Regulation, feeding wildlife is a form of harassment, and those found guilty are subject to citations.
The iconic bison herd on the Island is not native to Catalina. The bison are registered as livestock, rather than wildlife, and are managed by the Catalina Island Conservancy in the same way free range cattle are managed. Do not attempt to feed the bison. Even though they are registered as livestock, they are large, unpredictable animals, and dangerous. .
The bison have been provided supplemental food at various times over the past decades. This year, in response to a decline in forage due to the drought, the Catalina Island Conservancy has been periodically providing hay to the herd at several locations on the Island.
To protect wildlife, secure garbage, pet food, and other food sources to prevent incidental feeding. When hiking, camping, or backpacking, use appropriate food storage methods. Please remember: Foxes, ravens, and squirrels are experts at snatching unsecure food.
By Alexa Johnson
Alexa Johnson is the Catalina Island Conservancy’s Outreach and Naturalist Training Specialist. For more information, please visit our website.
The Catalina Island Conservancy was formed in 1972 and is one of California’s oldest land trusts. Its mission is to be a responsible steward of its lands through a balance of conservation, education and recreation. The Conservancy protects the magnificent natural and cultural heritage of Santa Catalina Island, stewarding approximately 42,000 acres of land, 62 miles of rugged shoreline and more than 80 miles of trails. It operates the Airport in the Sky, Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden and two nature centers. Twenty miles from the mainland, the Island is home to more than 60 plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world. - Watch Video
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