Anyone who visits Knox is aware of the abundance of squirrels on our campus. So abundant are these animals that the rodent was even in the running to be the new Knox mascot, only to be beaten out by Blaze the fox. Knox’s campus has become a haven for squirrels for many reasons, including the numerous deciduous trees which provide food and habitat, the essentially predator-free ecosystem which has been created, and perhaps most importantly, the actions of Knox students towards the animals.
Although I am happy to see wildlife such as squirrels thriving in an urban environment, I am dismayed at the attitude many Knox students display towards these wild animals. In particular, what most troubles me are the students who feed and pet the squirrels. It must be stressed that the Fox Squirrel and Eastern Grey Squirrel, who use Knox’s campus as their habitat, are wild animals. These species have evolved to compete in ecological niches in temperate forest ecosystems, yet students at Knox seem to think that the squirrels on campus should be domesticated or become pets.
On a daily basis, my friends and I see our peers attempting to pet and feed these creatures. On more than one occasion I have seen people with bags of food trying to entice these squirrels to approach. Simply put, squirrels are not pets. They are wild animals; there is no reason why someone should be trying to interact with a squirrel as if it were Fido. Although squirrels may seem cute or cuddly, this simply does not give anyone the right to interfere with a squirrel’s natural behavior. A squirrel living on our campus should not be treated as if it were a domesticated dog. Students at Knox want to befriend squirrels because they seem charismatic and because we liken them to other pets. However, I have never seen anyone on campus trying to feed a crow, an animal which is as equally undomesticated and abundant as a campus squirrel. The squirrels that live on our campus are not hamsters, guinea pigs or any other domesticated pet. Instead, student actions towards squirrels disrupt and seriously harm the natural behaviors of the animals.
Squirrels have evolved to eat nuts, tree buds and insects — not bread, cafeteria cookies, french fries, mints or any other human food. The offerings of food from people’s hands substitute the natural diet of the animal. It is not farfetched to assume that these wild animals will become dependent on hand-fed food from students. The squirrels may lose their evolutionary fitness and natural behaviors. Squirrels seem to associate humans with food. Many students have recounted stories of squirrels pursuing them in the search of food. I have been approached by squirrels countless times, even though I have never fed a squirrel in my life.
We feed our pets because they are inept in providing for themselves. However, these squirrels are not pets and are fully capable of surviving without human assistance. The actions of a few students have impacted the entire student body; today, campus squirrels have no fear of people. This is not natural. Squirrels remain wild animals and have wild instincts; even when you may believe you are helping an animal in distress you may be harming it. The squirrel can even harm you (a squirrel bit a student on campus this year). If you believe you are helping the squirrels by giving them food or affection you are living in a fallacy. Wild animals do better without human interference. By inserting oneself into the natural life cycle of a wild animal you are thereby disrespecting the creature. Keeping one’s distance from the squirrels is for the betterment of both the creature and the person. If you want to protect wildlife I suggest you support organizations such as the Nature Conservancy or World Wildlife Fund. And if you want to have a pet I would suggest adopting one from a local animal shelter.