With the arrival of the first cold weather, the empathy of us animal lovers drives us to try to help animals that could suffer from the cold and/or hunger. But do they really need this? And above all, is it useful for conservation and wildlife protection purposes? How to do it without interfering with the natural course of the ecosystem balance?
Obviously, on a theoretical and moral level, helping animals in need is always useful. If only to make us feel at ease with our conscience. Sadly though, the truth is that nature is cruel and relies on the law of adaptation. The one who best adapts to the difficulties survives and from this point of view of respect for natural cycles, just as it is not right to save a gazelle from the jaws of a lion, it is equally wrong to intervene to feed animals in winter. Especially in our latitudes where there is no real need, above all since it is not a matter of threatened species in danger of extinction. It may seem like cynical reasoning, but for every sparrow that doesn’t survive a cold night, a fox will be able to feed its young, and this will favor the natural selection of increasingly stronger sparrows able to survive increasingly cold nights. This is not applicable where the human hand, road accidents, hunting or predation by pets cause damage to the animals: there it is our fault and it is our duty to intervene to help the animal in difficulty.
In any case, here I leave you some advice on how to help animals during the colder months, avoiding humanizing them, getting them used to humans and above all intervening massively on the course of natural events.The main board; therefore, it is letting nature develop and do what it has to do, naturally. Nature knows what needs to be done to protect her animals; it is man who by intervening has often altered the physiology of ecosystems, making other species vulnerable.
So let’s leave the “messy” areas of our garden undisturbed: piles of leaves or brushwood can actually be the perfect nest in which animals hide and rest to hibernate or spend a few days in the heat. Fallen leaves are a great mulch for our yard and garden and if we leave them where they fall, this will help conserve water and improve soil fertility, providing shelter, water and food for tons of animals. We must therefore not be in a hurry to tidy up the edges of the garden and the shrubs, at least until the beginning of spring; in this way it is possible to provide shelter for insects and other small animals during the winter. If we have a compost pile, this will become a perfect habitat for toads, grass snakes and earthworms. Additionally, shrubs not only provide year-round homes for animals and insects, but are a valuable natural food source, especially those that fruit in the winter, as well as fall and winter fruit trees. We don’t collect every fruit: we leave some on the tree, in order to naturally help birds and mammals, without intervening with panettone, seeds or bread. Feeding wildlife is always, always wrong. Letting nature feed them, on the other hand, is ethical and without dangerous consequences, creating wild animals accustomed to humans who prefer the food we provide over what they can find in nature.
If we have bodies of water in the garden, let’s avoid using harmful anti-freeze products. Rather we make small holes to allow terrestrial animals to drink, but being careful never to break the ice with force or spill boiling water on the pond, as this can damage or even kill the fish that live there, as advised by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Finally, we pay attention to the lighting of bonfires and fires. Sadly, it is one of the most overlooked issues regarding wildlife in the winter. In fact, as we have seen, piles of trunks, dead leaves, twigs, dry grasses are the perfect home for insects, mice, hedgehogs, frogs, newts, snakes or lizards, which are looking for holes and hiding places to stay warm and hidden during the season colder. By setting fire to brushwood, therefore, there is the risk of setting fire to dozens of animals which, hibernating or sleeping, will not have time to escape.
Finally, how to help animals in winter? No, not by feeding them, but by helping nature to express its power without disturbance or interference. In winter, as in all other seasons, she knows what to do, much better than us.
* Chiara Grasso is an ethologist and president of Eticoscienza