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by Abigail Van Buren

Animal Lovers Kill Wildlife With Kindness and Snacks

DEAR ABBY: I can't think of a better way than by writing to you to get this all-important message out regarding people who feed wildlife. They are creating a widespread problem with serious consequences for the animals.

Out of a misguided sense of "kindness," people ignore the posted warnings and feed wild animals. I have witnessed it in every state in which I've vacationed. However, the reason I'm writing you now is the problem we're having in Arizona.

A couple of years ago, many of the deer that live in the Grand Canyon had to be humanly destroyed. Their stomachs were so messed up from eating human food that they were slowly starving to death. People should also be made aware that not only do squirrels and chipmunks bite, but they must maintain foraging and storage skills to survive the winter.

More serious still, bears are becoming a problem. Because of drought, bears are coming down from the mountains and are being fed from cabins and campgrounds. The result has been several maulings and the destruction of those bears. Two have been found shot to death by fearful humans. As a precaution, many bears are now being moved to other areas.

Abby, please implore your readers to stop feeding wild animals. They are doing wildlife no favor by giving them handouts. In fact, they are "killing them with kindness." -- GINNY POLADIAN WILLOBY, PHOENIX

DEAR GINNY: Thank you for pointing out to animal lovers everywhere the danger of putting food out for wild animals, which not only damages their survival skills, but can create serious danger to humans and domestic animals.

I called the rangers in Grand Canyon National Park to verify why the deer had been destroyed. I was informed that in addition to the crackers, potato chips and cookies visitors fed them, the deer had consumed plastic bags, food wrappers and plastic twine while foraging in trash containers for the human food to which they had become habituated. Autopsies revealed that their stomachs were clogged with ingested trash; in some cases 3 to 5 pounds of plastic obstructed the animals' digestive systems. Food could not be processed, and the animals were starving to death.

It was explained that deer expecting handouts can become aggressive and have kicked, butted, gored and bitten visitors to the Grand Canyon.

In addition to the problem with deer and bears that you mentioned, there are problems with bighorn sheep and rock squirrels, which beg. They will bite the hand that feeds them, and the squirrels carry bubonic plague.