A few weeks ago, a young deer died of kindness in the Shenandoah National Park. This young buck died because a piece of food -- a hot dog eaten from the hand of a park visitor -- lodged in its throat. The deer choked to death.

The rich variety of wildlife in the Shenandoah National Park offers visitors an opportunity to experience the natural world at its best. In a single day's drive through the park, people can often see at least a dozen deer feeding along the roadside. The excitement of seeing wildlife at such close range regularly entices visitors to pull their cars to the side of the road for closer observation. Witnessing wildlife in the natural world is one of life's greatest treasures, but with that comes responsibility.

Since the deer living in Shenandoah are used to the presence of humans, a sense of trust and acceptance prevails. The calm-mannered deer often lead visitors to treat these wild animals of the woods as they would their family dog -- they offer them food from their hands.

While the sense of wonder and acceptance can be tremendous when a wild animal eats from your hand, it can be deadly to the animals. Feeding wildlife in parks is not only illegal, it is unhealthy for the animals. It leads to the development of unnatural patterns of behavior by conditioning the animals to rely on humans for food.

Please, folks, let the deer be deer. Let the wildlife of our national parks and all of our natural world be themselves. Don't feed the wildlife. CATHY ROSEN JEANNETTE H. L. WULFF Washington