Photo by South Dakota Tourism, Custer State ParkFor many people, a highlight of a trip to a location like Custer State Park in South Dakota is the chance to see wild birds and animals in their native habitat.

This can be a mixed blessing for both man and beast, and more than one Melancholy Situation has occurred when people get too close to animals in quest of a photo. For double trouble, some folks offer a snack to wildlife to try to lure the animal in range for an up close and personal picture. The following story is a good example of why not to feed the bears, the bison–or the burros.

Most wild animals don’t have any better judgment than humans do about healthy eating. To the best of my knowledge, neither the FDA nor any other organization has developed guidelines for the Recommended Daily Allowances of fat and/or sugar for birds and animals, but suffice it to say that “people food” is definitely not good for the wildlife. Yeah, I know they’re cute, but try to resist temptation and “just say no” when creatures great or small come begging, so you won’t find yourself in a situation similar to the one in the following story.

Mrs. Deb Anderson from Robbinsdale, Minnesota, shared the following good example of what can go wrong when people ignore warnings about feeding wildlife in parks. This misadventure occurred at Custer State Park, which is located near Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Photo by Jess Stryker of burro at Custer State Park.

“We were driving through the park enjoying the abundant wildlife that can be seen from the car. Our son Scott was four at the time so this was a perfect activity for our family. The wild burros in Custer were especially interesting, and we had our car windows cracked just enough to get in on the fun sounds and even a little donkey snot.

“We moved on down the road to another group of burros. Another car was already parked near the herd that was standing on the road. We pulled up behind the first vehicle and watched an older lady get out of the car with a big bag of potato chips. Her husband remained in the car while this lady walked up to a burro and began feeding it potato chips.

“It was great fun to watch her for about one minute, then things began to get ugly as the burros jostled and competed for the chips. The woman began to become alarmed and tried to move away, but the burros were intent on having that whole bag of chips! We continued to watch this scenario unfold as this woman’s husband remained in their car, video camera fixed on his wife, with the window down just enough for the camera lens to stick out through the opening.

“Finally we became alarmed as the woman really began to panic and the burros continued to muscle her for more chips. By now the goodies were gone and the scene was just plain ugly. My husband Mark took matters into his own hands and maneuvered our car close to the woman. This resulted in the burros backing off slightly and our car provided a buffer for the woman to run around and escape.

“She ran to her car, jumped in, and they literally peeled rubber into the sunset, never to be seen again. Scott, now age eleven, was inspired by your many clever and funny acronyms from your first book and has since invented an acronym that could be used with this story. He says the woman suffered from S.A.D. (Stupid Adult Disorder.)”

I’d say that Scott is a lot smarter than many adults! While the old expression about someone being “sadder but wiser” can be credited to the writer Samuel Coleridge in The Ancient Mariner, I’d suggest that its roots can actually be ascribed to S.A.D., which was known to occur in humanity as early as Adam and Eve and the event with that infamous piece of fruit.

The Andersons’ story also confirms that those advertising geniuses on Madison Avenue sometimes do get it right, although I doubt they were thinking about wild burros at the time they coined one of their memorable slogans. When it comes to most snacks, it’s hard to “eat just one”–whether you’re a human or a wild animal. If you can keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to toss a goodie to one of those “cute” critters, you’ll be wiser, not sadder.

Jim Burnett

Life – it’s an adventure…. Find something to smile about today!

This story is excerpted from the book Hey Ranger 2, © Jim Burnett and Taylor Trade Publishing. Used by permission.

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  1. John –

    Thanks for sharing a great story – and a good reminder that if we see a “baby” animal, mama is almost sure to be somewhere nearby. I’m sure after this misadventure was over, your friend wished someone had captured this one for him on videotape. Glad it turned out okay for all the players in this little drama.

  2. John Totten

    Bears are not the only critters, of ocurse, that can be dangerous to your health. I have a friend that thought that he would like to get a little closer to a baby moose to get some pictures. He went through the woods and out into the middle of an open field to get his “great” pictures. He looked around and did not see any signs of “mama moose” so he thought it would be ok. Of course as he neared the area where he thought he could get some good pictures “mama moose” appeared and decided that he was too close for comfort so she took off after him. Fortuantely he made it to the woods before she caught him. She did not stop there though. For about 15 minutes she chased him from tree to tree until both of them were too tired to motate any longer. After that he decided that picture taking would happen from the relative safety of the car or with a telephoto lens. At least he would know where “mama” was when attempting to take a picture of some of the critters of nature. He said that he was afraid that he was going to have a heart attack as he was not used to all the running that he had to do to keep out of harms way.

  3. Ernie – Thanks for the comment and the great story. You offer a good example of how quickly “wild animals” learn to adapt to people.

    Jim Burnett

  4. Ernie

    While driving through the wildlife loop in Custer SP in 2005, I was stopped by a burro that just walked out to the yellow line and stopped in his tracks, causing traffic going both directions to come to a stop. The other burros in the herd then canvassed each car in both directions, looking for handouts. When they had finished both lines of cars, the “crossing guard” walked to the side of the road and let us pass. This was so organized, I can only assume that they repeated this trick throughout the day, presumably taking turns as the “crossing guard”.