The Changing Diets of Animals

The pheasant, in his ceaseless search for insects and larvae, will often turn up a kernel of wheat or corn. In his constant quest for food he gradually cultivates a taste for grain, and sometimes becomes a perfect pest to farmers who have other plans for their crops. Wing-clipped mallards skim over the surface of a park lake, ever on the lookout for water bugs or small fish. Their broad beaks are often busy with tender green vegetation along the water’s edge. But, as any child visitor to the zoo will testify, one rattle of a paper bag and the birds desert their hunting in a mad scramble for a feast of dried bread or stale cake.All authorities agree that proper food in the right proportions is important to the physical well-being of wild animals. When wild appetites are tamed, new problems arise. Zookeeper Clyde Hill relates that on one occasion he noticed that the fur of one of the bears was mangy, and she was thin to emaciation. “Her case puzzled me,” he says, “and worried me, too, for naturally we are proud of the fine health of our animals. Her condition grew steadily worse and she began to have fits. In desperation I checked up on her food and there I found the trouble. An inexperienced keeper had fed her nothing but stale bread donated by a bakery that often had a surplus. When I took the bread out of her diet, and fed her exclusively on a corn chop and bran mixture, she quickly snapped out of it.”

In Yellowstone Park, signs of “Do not feed the bears” are very much in evidence. “The impression given is that it is dangerous to the public,” animal expert Mr. Parvin says, “but the practice is equally dangerous to the bears. Park officials try to counteract this injudicious feeding in every way possible, short of administering bicarbonate of soda. These bears are wild. They live a natural life and are not pampered in any way except for the scraps and sweets fed them by tourists, and their ready access to garbage pails. But when they go into hibernation they have not built up the necessary supply of fat and energy. The cubs, because of this deficiency, often are not strong enough to survive. The polar bear, except in rare cases, will not even breed in captivity. The grizzly, however, retains his wild appetite, and, as a result, continues sturdy, as evidenced by the huge hump on his neck.”

The consensus of opinion is that taming the appetite tames the nature of the wild animal, as well. Once tamed, he finds it difficult to go back to the food of the wild. When the necessity of hunting no longer exists he soon loses a great deal of his ferocity.