“Don’t feed the animals.” For those acquainted with (petting) zoos, it’s a well-known sign. One we’ve read so often we could dream it and yet, some people prefer to ignore the advice. What’s the harm in giving a little treat to those cute animals, right? And it brings the kids so much joy. Well, we are sorry to disappoint you but yes, those treats can actually be harmful to an animal’s health, apart from being dangerous for your own safety in some cases. So just read those signs and get over it.
But what if you are in a place where there are no signs? What if you’re in the middle of nature, enjoying the wildlife around you, and you want to pamper one of the many wild animals which seem to be eager to come and eat a treat out of your hand? The answer is simple. Sign or no sign, you shouldn’t do it.
Grapes as snacks
It’s a lesson many ecotourists on the Bahamas have yet to learn, with all its consequences. According to a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Biology by Susannah French of the Utah State University and her colleagues, local rock iguanas on Exuma Island are suffering from high blood sugar and possibly pre-diabetic phenomena. This may seem a bit strange for a reptile yet it is far from surprising given all the sugar-rich snacks they are being fed by strangers, aka ecotourists. A lot of them are feeding the reptiles sugar-high grapes on wooden skewers, in order to “make the animals happy” and to be able to get closer to them.
Yet, that practice comes with a risk. Naturally, rock iguanas rely on a relatively varied diet, consisting mainly of plants and insects. Sugars are fairly unusual for them, let alone grapes, a fruit loaded with sugar and not at all indigenous to their habitat. And, contrary to us humans who’ve adopted an omnivore way of eating for thousands of years, their bodies aren’t able to adapt to such a change.
And even when it comes to our own bodies, a high sugar diet can actually exhaust our ability to regulate our blood glucose in the long run, resulting in diabetes. According to the new research, this same phenomenon can happen in rock iguanas, too. And their access to doctors and drugs is, let’s say, not as evident as is the case for humans. So as an ecotourist or a tourist in general, use your common sense. Admire those wonderful animals from afar, take your pictures and just leave them alone.