From 'Feed the Birds' to 'Do Not Feed the Animals'


  • Prof Naomi Sykes

    University of Exeter

  • Dr Stuart Black

    University of Reading

  • Dr Angela Cassidy

    University of Exeter

  • Dr Andrew Kitchener

    National Museums Scotland

  • Prof Garry Marvin

    University of Roehampton

Project summary

Signs stating ‘Do not feed the animals’ are ubiquitous in zoos, national parks and urban spaces. They stress that uncontrolled feeding by people can affect animal health, alter wild animal behaviour and create public hygiene and nuisance issues. However, humans appear to have a deep-seated proclivity to feed animals.

Many ancient cults fed animals, some modern religions require it, and feeding is often actively encouraged as a tourist attraction. Millions of people feed wildlife in gardens and in 2018, the pet-food industry was worth £2.7 billion in the UK alone.  

This project will undertake a deep-time and cross-cultural investigation to uncover the roots of animal feeding and critique the benefits/risks for all concerned. Particularly, we will test our hypothesis that animal domestication itself was driven by the human penchant for animal feeding and that this process is not just continuing but accelerating, with consequences for global human-animal-environmental health.