LONDON, ONT. -- Years of domesticating wild animals like squirrels by feeding them in places like urban parks is having an unintended consequence during the pandemic.

“Usually these squirrels and these geese are getting fed year round at these parks. and now they are not seeing that. There’s a scarcity of food availability, and so these animals are getting desperate,” says wildlife biologist Nikita Frizzelle.

The problem stems from feeding the animals in the first place, making them dependent on a source of food that has now dried up. Brian Salt from Salthaven Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre says this is a great example of why humans should leave animals alone and let their survival instincts take over.

“Yeah, it’s very rare that you’ll find a wild animal that will actually starve to death, unless he has some preexisting condition that prevents him from finding the food that he normally would.”

Squirrels in downtown London's Victoria Park have always been friendly, but now they are flocking to anyone that stays put for a few minutes.

During a visit to Victoria Park Tuesday it only took about three minutes of standing in the same position to gather a crowd of the curious critters.

Frizzelle says the pandemic has created a new mosaic where animal behaviour is changing due to the changes in society.

“What we’re seeing with COVID is this mosaic changing. That these high-risk areas, high-risk times, when people are out and about, no longer exist and are now low-risk and these animals are exploring areas that they haven’t explored in years.”

One of the easiest forms of food squirrels and geese have access to in park settings is bread, which Salt says is dangerous for the wildlife.

“What happens is, the bread balls up in the crop of birds as dough, and in the stomach of squirrels it’s the same. So it’s not good for them.”

Salt says the best thing for the animals is to let them find their own food, because this isn’t normal behaviour for wild animals, and the pandemic is magnifying the issue.