New York City wildlife has grown too bold, too accustomed to free treats; now the critters rove our parks in hangry packs, menacing park-goers and snatching the bodega sandwiches right out of their hands. They must be stopped!
The Parks Department has heard your anguished cries, and has proposed that the city make feeding the animals illegal. Officials will hold a public hearing on the matter this Friday, March 1st.
Currently, the Rules of New York prohibit the feeding of all animals except squirrels and birds, so while you can legally toss Mandarin Patinkin some oats, you cannot toss your snacks at a sewer gator or a zombie raccoon, not even as a diversion. But according to Parks officials, even things like bird feed attract rats and unsavory beasts.
"Wildlife populations have changed so much in just the past 20 years," Richard Simon, director of the Parks Department's Wildlife Unit, told amNY. "Where once upon a time we had pigeons and squirrels and maybe some ducks, and grandma and grandpa would take the grandchild out to the park to throw some bread crumbs, things have changed. We now have large raccoon populations. We have a very large deer population."
Also, on top of that, bread is bad for birds, and I am guessing you don't want the Hot Duck's blood on your hands.
We know, however, that some of the city's devoted pigeon-feeders—even rat-feeders—harbor sincere fears that, without human intervention, their feathered friends would not be able to scavenge the food they need to survive. Anecdotal evidence suggests those fears are misplaced: Squirrels forage egg rolls, tacos, Shake Shack, iced coffee, and more from the trash. Rats, meanwhile, famously enjoy eating leftover pizza, other rats, and donuts, while pigeons go for bagels and street meat. None of these foods are good for wildlife, to be clear: Feeding our small fuzzy friends human food not only causes unhealthy weight, it also incites aggressive animal behavior.
Speaking to amNY, pigeon photographer Andrew Garn blamed this smorgasbord on open trash cans, which he says are the real culprit behind rat infestations in parks. "The public should be educated to give high quality bird seed and not food scraps for birds—not forbid feeding in general," he said.
But the Parks Department sees a unilateral feeding ban as "a humane method of pest control," one that may also "prevent the transmission of disease that occurs when animals congregate around feeding areas," according to a press release. Recall those outbreaks of canine distemper virus in the city's raccoon communities in the summer and fall of 2018.
But also, the Parks Department hopes that setting some feeding boundaries would encourage healthier/safer human-animal interactions, even as they acknowledge that a penalty would be difficult to enforce. (Currently, feeding an unauthorized animal is punishable with a $50 fine.) Still, Simon told amNY that the Parks Department would rely on public education to teach us all about more appropriate ways to show our love.
"We are always interested in helping people to better appreciate wildlife in the city," as Simon put it to WNYC. "Appreciate them in a more natural setting [rather] than artificially luring them in and providing food sources that they really don't need."
The hearing will be held at noon on March 1st—more detailed information can be found here.