Grey Fox Goddess
You know it’s going to be one of those weeks when the boss storms into the office Monday morning and declares, “I AM GOD!” Before you think I am telling tales about the crazy lady I work for, please be aware that I am that boss. I may be just a little bit crazy. But, truth be told, I’m not really even one of the minor goddesses.
In my defense, that is not exactly what I meant to say, but a new habitat cleaner was signing into the volunteer logbook in the office at Peace River Wildlife Center when I said it and she got such a look of terror in her eyes that I think I’ll start every Monday morning like that from now on. Actually I was schlepping my usual pile of paraphernalia—laptop computer, laundry soap, squirrel (the kind of things everyone carries with them to work, right?) into the office first thing in the morning. When I headed back out to get another armload, someone asked if I needed help. My brain was processing whether to say, “No, I got it” or “No, I’m good.” It came out as, “No, I’m god.”
What a week it turned out to be. We had the usual bumper crop of baby bunnies being brought in. They were pitched out of the nest by a lawn mower, retrieved by a labradoodle, and trapped in a garage. One was even found in a pool. Who knew bunnies could do the backstroke? Just like the Eveready Bunny, those little guys just never seem to stop coming in. Remember to leave them for their mother to raise if they are not injured or truly orphaned or abandoned. Mama rabbits will leave their young alone for several hours between nursing visits in order to not draw the attention of predators to the nest site. Just because the mother is not there, do not assume the babies are abandoned.
One of our more unusual patients so far this year is a grey fox that was brought to us by Charlotte County Animal Control Officer Finkbeiner. The fox was reportedly stuck in a fence for up to a few days before the property owners became aware of the situation. The adult male is resting comfortably in PRWC’s surgical/isolation ward. Initially he was so weak he could barely raise his head. He progressed quickly to eating on his own—he has a voracious appetite! He can now stand and walk a few steps, but his gait is still unstable. It will be some time before we can make the determination if permanent damage was done to his spine or the nerves in one or more of his legs by the entrapment. We hope to be able to release him if he can make a full recovery.
In the meantime, he is actually a joy to work with. He is a wild animal and must be handled accordingly, but his eyes are so intelligent. He is trusting of us so far, as though he knows we are trying to help him. We are monitoring him also for the possibility that he may have a contagious disease like canine distemper or rabies. But his progress so far diminishes the chance of that and should he survive, he will be vaccinated for those diseases.
Grey foxes, as well as red, are found over much of Florida. The smaller grey fox is usually more dominant than the larger red and will push the reds out of a common territory. Luckily grey foxes are not hunted quite as often as red foxes since the former do not give dogs as good a chase as the reds and their fur is not as valuable to man. (Although, it remains pretty darned valuable to the fox!)
Foxes are “opportunivores.” They will eat anything they can get their little paws on. They eat small mammals, birds, frogs, fruits, vegetables, etc. Although they are rarely seen since they usually only come out at night, they can be found close to human habitation, nosing through garbage. They make their dens in hollow trees, stumps, and gopher tortoise burrows. The grey fox is one of only two canids that can actually climb trees, a skill used to avoid predators and reach food (the other is the Asian raccoon dog). They can shinny up a branchless tree and jump down or climb down backwards like a cat.
Another interesting fact about foxes—the grey fox has oval pupils, while the red fox has slit-like pupils. I do not advocate using this method to determine at which wild animal you are looking. The red fox will have more red fur, black “socks” on all four legs and a white-tipped tail. The grey fox will have a little red in his predominantly grey grizzled coat and a black-tipped tail. And either will try to chomp you if you give them the opportunity by getting close enough to see the whites (or pupils) of his eyes.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM