Steam Ship Springs – Spring has arrived, but strong snow and cold temperatures have kept wild animals at low altitude around Steamboat Springs, where they frequently encounter humans.
These humans, seeing herds of elk, fallow deer and moose, sometimes feed themselves on what they regard as hungry animals struggling to survive during the harsh winter months of the region. .
But local wildlife officials, seeing animals fall ill or even die after eating human food, urge the public to stay away from wildlife and keep them wild.
Feeding or disturbing wildlife is not only harmful to one's health, it also attracts wild creatures to urban areas, creating dangerous situations for these animals and the people who live there.
A press release issued Wednesday by Colorado Parks and Wildlife described the recent death of a deer in the San Luis Valley because of the food provided by humans. Officials looked at his stomach and found that it was filled with corn and cereal, two foods that deer can not digest.
Incidents like this one explain why it is illegal to feed wild animals in Colorado. Offenders can be fined, but the real consequences are on the animals themselves.
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Mike Porras, North West Parks and Wildlife Information Officer, said that, despite what many people think, native animals have adapted to the sub-zero winter temperatures and deep snowpack of the area.
"Wild life has existed in this kind of condition for centuries without human help," he said.
Herds of animals such as elk and deer follow each year a pattern of regular migration, descending from the surrounding mountains to the Yampa Valley where they seek their vegetation.
For the most part, they live on the fat that they have stored during the summer months rich in plants. According to the press release, they usually lose between 30 and 40% of their weight in winter.
Kris Middledorf, head of parks and wildlife in Steamboat, sees this period as a period of Darwinian natural selection. The strong survive and give birth to healthy and equally strong offspring.
"Some animals, they are starving and starving," Middledorf said. "It's natural and what CPW is waiting for."
When people feed wildlife, they disrupt this natural process.
"In most cases, human intervention has far worse consequences than doing nothing," Porras said.
In addition to corn and cereals, he has seen people feed more processed animals, such as corn chips, to wild animals.
"It can seriously damage their digestive system, resulting in death," he said, as evidenced by the deer found in the San Luis Valley.
Middledorf added that feeding wild animals makes them dependent on humans and brings more animals into urban areas. This has been a more serious problem recently, as snow melted around the city and more and more animals were grazing on newly discovered vegetation.
He pointed out last week the situation of a young moose who was hanging out under the gondola of the Steamboat Resort. People in the condominiums nearby were throwing food from their balcony. Some approached within five feet of moose, one of the most aggressive animals in the state, to take a selfie with him.
If the moose had accused or injured someone, that person would not be the only one to suffer the consequences.
"Any animal that attacks a human being, we will have to shoot it down," Middledorf said.
To avoid such a situation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife moved moose to a more remote area last week. This requires the tranquilization of the animal, which, according to Middledorf, can put wild life at risk once again released.
He even had a term for that: "capture myopathy". It is a disease often associated with the capture of a wild animal that causes muscle damage and stress. For animals already struggling in the winter months, such a disease could be a breakpoint.
Keeping this in mind, Middledorf stated that his main goal was to educate the public to respect local wildlife and maintain their distance.
"The best thing to do is to learn to coexist with these animals," he said. "It means learning to keep our distance and not feeding them."
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