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An islander shares his observations about what the foxes need

  • Written by Kyle Kittoe

I live south of American Camp, so I pass through the park from time to time. I feel compelled to post my opinion because what I am seeing here really bothers me and I know I am not alone among islanders.

Read to the end of this article to learn the story behind this photo by Kyle Kittoe

I am in no way opposed island visitors and understand their importance to the local economy. However, I also love the beauty and serenity of this place and care deeply about our non human inhabitants, native and introduced.

As I express my thoughts I want to be clear that I am no expert on local mammals, though I do have a six year University Degree in Biology specializing in animal behavior. I also spent over a decade working as a natural history interpreter in the tourist industry and have spend my entire life as an observer of wildlife.

So what’s stuck in my craw? Well, I have been witness to the fox photography boon taking place here. Sadly, I am seeing groups of a dozen of more people crowded around the rabbit warrens on the west side of Mt. Finlayson from dawn till dusk.

Here is what I know. I KNOW about the probable impact of this activity. Foxes, Rabbits and Small Mammals, like most wild animals, all live on a thin line of survival dependent on one very critical resource… TIME. Time for foraging, hunting and at this time of year, raising their offspring.

As people encroach on the habitat of these critters, they are stealing time away from the animals and limiting their ability to go about their daily efforts to obtain the food they need.

In particular, Vixen’s, high on the food chain, need to feed consistently each day to produce the milk required to raise their kits. Hunting, though possible during nighttime hours, needs to be a 24-hour a day activity to be successful for a Vixen. That, I assure you, is not happening here on South Beach.

I don’t know the solution and maybe its just not that important; but it sure bugs the hell out of me. How can people just not get such a simple construct and realize that their photos could just as easily be obtained from an unobtrusive distance?

This may be the TLDR part of this post, but maybe some context is needed.

For years now we have had a pair of fox that den and brood in our back yard. We observe them from our home without disturbing them and please know, they choose to live here with us.

The Vixen has been successful and rearing three to five kits each year; at least until she moves them from the beach to where ever their summer home is. Watching the pair work in concert to keep their family intact and safe from the local Eagles and other predators is remarkable.

Let me tell you a bit about how it works and maybe you will appreciate these wonderful creatures just a little more.

Once the kits become active in early April, they remain hidden in the den throughout the day as the nesting Eagles are always on watch in the trees near buy. Solo, each parent drops by every hour or so to check in on the brood and naturally the Vixen pauses her hunting activities to nurse her young.

Then, each evening, just before sunset, it is play time. The kits are called from the den to frolic and wrestle in the yard. Each parent takes a turn at supervision, though the the male watches from a short distance so as to be out of the fray. He is kinda staunch as a father and doesn’t like to be nipped and have his tail used as a toy. The Vixen on the other hand, is all in and acts as sort of a living Jungle Jim.

When play time is over, somehow whichever parent is on duty, gives a signal and all the kits scurry off to the den not to be seen until the following evening. I do wish I could understand how this communication works so effectively. I never was able to find the magic words that would work like that with my children.

In early May, when it becomes harder for the kits to confine themselves to the den and the Eagles become ever more observant of the little ones need to get out and play, the Vixen decides it’s time to move to the summer haunt. One evening, both parents (usually they only show up one at a time) arrive at the den. While the male remains on guard, the Vixen calls out one kit at a time and either carries it by the scruff of the neck or somehow gives it a “follow me” signal and off they go.

Back and forth she goes, moving the brood out of harms way. During her absence, male on guard, each kit patiently waits a turn. I really cannot tell how she is able to speak to the kits, but her message is always completely clear and obeyed without question.

A couple of years ago, an Eagle decided to try and intervene in this migration (see photo) and the Vixen had to make a run for it across the open yard. However, even though she dropped her kit as she began to dart, she risked her own life to duck back in an instant and pick it up and bolt to safety under the deck. She is an awesome mom.

Time and space people, time and space.

- By Kyle Kittoe

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