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Fox Rescue & Capture

A Talk by Taz Kenward

 

Thank you for joining us this afternoon. My name is Taz and I am a rescuer for the Fox project. I began as a volunteer unit partner late summer of 2013. My role was cleaning the dirty kennels, feeding, medicating, and wound care of the foxes at the ICU. In addition to this, keeping the unit clean and stocked up with food, newspapers, and getting the never ending laundry done.

I then got my rescue kit a few weeks later, once it had arrived from the wish list. It was a net and a metal carry basket.

By 2014, I was asked to be an admin on the Fox Project Facebook page and I have held this role ever since.

 

In spring of 2016, I was invited to join their ambulance staff, (1) and though it was initially only a temporary part-time role, it actually led to a permanent position and I was full-time by September 2016.

 

Sadly due to family illness, I had to leave my role in April 2020 as ambulance driver to become a full-time carer for my dad who had advanced dementia.

 

I still retained my roles as Facebook Admin, and volunteer rescuer and general dogsbody for whenever they need me, if I am free.

 

In my time on the ambulance and prior, I have dealt with many challenging, heartbreaking and heartwarming rescues. Some of these I will try to help you understand as we go on.

 

The first thing I learned is about the foxes themselves. Their character, their habits and their needs and behaviours.

 

Foxes are members of the dog family, Canidae. All those in this family are gray and red wolves, coyotes, dingoes, jackals, arctic and fennec foxes.

 

People often compare foxes as being as big as an Alsatian dog - in fact, they're actually not that big at all, but quite small. The average adult fox can weigh anything between three and seven kilos; some cats are of a similar weight range.

 

The heaviest fox we ever had in at the Fox Project was nine and a half kilos, which is grossly overweight. The risks to the overall health, not to mention increased leg injuries, which are a super common injury anyway, are much higher, and riskier in heavier foxes.

 

A vast many foxes though, are described as skinny or emaciated. This is more common in the summer, or if a fox has increased fur loss due to mange. But in reality they need to be slender so they can fit through any tiny gaps and holes, of which the average fox, can slink through a 13cm gap like they're made of liquid. Also being lightweight enough that they can leap up and over six-foot fences with ease.

 

Foxes moult out their winter coats in springtime. These can cause darker patches which are often mistaken for mange (2 + 3) 

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It doesn't hurt to treat for mange as a just in case, because early treatment means, it likely won't need rescuing later on.

 

Summer fox coats are much thinner and less bushy than in winter, but they do begin growing their winter fluff by late summer, early autumn. Their thin summer coat can exacerbate how slender they look, but, this is normal. Nursing vixens can look incredibly scraggy though, as they tend to lose their coats earlier, and they also lose condition due to their body giving all its own nutrients to the cubs whilst nursing.

 

Foxes have a much better short range eyesight, but their hearing is far superior. They tilt and turn their ears to pinpoint prey shuffling around in the undergrowth with precision accuracy. They also have a very keen sense of smell, so for a scavenging fox, it is a vital sense for finding food.

 

They have these vibrissae hairs on their faces, which are their whiskers, also under the chin and on their front legs. It's these hairs, along with their sense of smell and hearing, that help them when navigating their territory both at night, and in the day.

 

Foxes will investigate every single inch of their territory and will know exactly where everything is. All the escape routes and all the bolt holes for a swift exit when needed.

 

Often a pursued fox will literally just vanish. There one second, no trace the next. They will always be somewhere nearby hiding, you just don't know where, because you have no idea of the territory layout.

 

Foxes are always wary of change, a new fence put up where previously was a hedge and the fox will be cautious, maybe even keep away, until it's got used to it. Their survival is very much based on their suspicion of new things, and is often why they are hard to trap.

 

Normally foxes are seen wandering around alone, but they mostly have their larger family network consisting of the dominant male and female and their subordinates. Usually these are all related and will help the vixen by bringing food and supporting shared duties in caring for and raising the cubs. It's more often the daughter, fondly called an aunty, and she would assume parental role if anything were to happen to the mum.

 

Sometimes there are also the lone ranger of foxes, who don't have a family network. They often don't have their own territory either, they just roam from area to area. Reports from people saying "never seen this one before" are very common.

 

Dynamics of the family network can change each year, sometimes an established aunty can be ousted in favour of a younger sibling, sometimes a dominant vixen can surrender her territory to another in the group and leave, but whatever they do, it's their choice and their way.

 

Foxes have 28 different vocalisations the most common is the vixen scream. Many people hear this, quite notably in mating season, but both genders will produce this scream, and, at any time of the year. They will also gekker and whine at one another, usually in play or during territorial conflicts. A fox that is trapped or severely injured will absolutely not make a sound. Being a prey animal themselves, they do not want to draw any unwanted attention that may lead to them being further harmed. So, anyone hearing foxes screaming, need not worry. 

 

Cubs that are in distress will always be vocal, they are calling for mum - “I'm hungry, mum feed me!” These cubs will need help. 

 

Foxes are very adaptable, they've had to be. With more and more houses being built, it's causing people to think they are dominating our towns and cities. Foxes have resided in London since at least the Second World War. Where there are people, there are rats. There are no more foxes in London now, than there were years back. 

 

Only roughly 8 to 10 thousand foxes reside within the entire London area. People believe there are lots, but, chances are, they are just seeing the same 3 or 4 that live in their neighbourhood.

 

Fox numbers do not need to be controlled either, they regulate themselves. Plus, cars reduce the numbers of foxes anyway. Foxes usually breed back only the number which was lost in the last year.

 

The Fox Diet

 

Foxes are classified as carnivores, but, they are actually omnivores, they will eat anything.

 

In towns, they do not just survive on raiding bins, or food put out by fox lovers. They still catch mice, rats and birds. They raid nests for eggs and nestlings, and they will dig lawns for earthworms and other grubs and insects. Berries and fruit are also eaten by foxes.

 

They will spend a lot of their time looking for food, this does not mean they are constantly hungry, they will gather up food and cashe in a hole where they can return for it whenever they are struggling to find food. Some people put food out in vast amounts for their visiting foxes, much of which would be buried in a neighbouring garden. This may really annoy that neighbour, and if they know you are feeding, they could report you to the council. There is little that a council can do, other than to write and request you cease feeding. But, worse than that, the neighbour could contact pest control, who will only be to glad to pocket several hundred pounds for their pleasure in shooting your foxes. My advice with feeding, has always been, supply a snack, one egg, a handful of dog meat, and a raw chicken wing. Scatter in a quiet location around your garden, and don't feed every day, miss days out here and there. It will still supplement their diet, but not be so much they wound need to cashe it. If they are feeding cubs, you could increase the amount, but only slightly, because in spring, there are more natural foods available for foxes.

 

The lifespan of a fox can vary, but on average, it's around 18 months to 2 or 3 years. I've met older foxes, and its a privilege. To know they've had a wonderful long life, free-roaming and blessed. The oldest estimated fox was around 8 years according to her householder.

 

Cubs have it tougher, because when they disperse away from the familiar streets where they grew up, they encounter roads which could be faster than they are used to. An average litter of 6 cubs, it's likely only half will see their first birthday.

It's dispersal and mating season that sees a higher mortality rate of foxes on our roads. Mating season is often because of their raging hormones. As the foxes flirt and chase each other around, it is too common that pairs of foxes get struck by cars as they race across the road, oblivious to what's around them!

 

Some passers by the next day, assuming it's foul play at hand, but, it is just as possible that it's a pure accident.

 

Same with foxes suddenly being found deceased in a garden, no sign of injury, it's often assumed they've been deliberately poisoned. But, the reality could well be that it was struck by a car going a slowish speed. Cars are rounder, with softer bumpers, and a gentle knock doesn't always kill them, but their adrenaline kicks in, and the run for home. The driver continues thinking ahh foxy is ok, thank god. But, the damage is to the internal organs, the liver, kidneys, spleen, lungs even. Slowly, the fox is bleeding internally, finally, eventually, there's not enough blood to keep him alive and he collapses in a garden and dies. This is when poisoning is decided as the cause.

 

Poisoning does happen, but, it isn't always deliberate. It can just as easily be accidental. Foxes love getting into sheds, or garages, and these are places where most toxic substances are stored. Foxes also like to chew, so they may have a nibble on a plastic bottle, ingesting some of the contents. They may knock something over and it spills, they walk through it, then lick their paws.

 

Then there is secondary poisoning, where a fox has eaten a poisoned rat. Even if a fox has been found poisoned, getting an autopsy would only confirm that it was poisoned, what it won't tell you, is how it came to be poisoned. And if it were deliberate, finding the person responsible would be much harder. In all poisoning cases, whether suspected to be deliberate or not, should be reported to the wildlife crime officer. This creates a log, and if other animals turn up the same, it can build a case.

 

Mating & Cubs

Fox mating season begins in November and lasts through to February. A vixen's heat is similar to that of a dog. She will bleed for around 10 days and then reach her fertile mating point, during which she is most receptive to the male. This is just three days long.

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(4) During copulation, they will go into what is called the mating tie, and they can remain in this position for anything between a few minutes, to an hour or more. It is vital, they are left alone and not approached. Rescues get calls in December and January detailing how two foxes appear to be tethered by their tails and they need rescuing! A few blushes later after its explained that they are in the throes of mad passionate love, foxy style! But, it is an alarming thing if you have never seen it before, even in dogs!

 

A vixen's pregnancy lasts between 52 and 56 days and the average litter is between four and six cubs.

 

Cubs can be born anytime from January to late April, though, the peak births are March and early April.

 

The cubs are born blind and deaf with very dark brown fur, (5) often, they are mistaken for kittens when they are discovered above ground. When the vixen has given birth, she will remain in the den with the cubs for the first few days. Due to contrary belief, they do not line the den with fur from their abdomen, they slowly lose this fur as the cubs palpate her for milk.  She may have an auntie to bring her food and her time spent away from the cubs will be very short, usually only to empty her bowels. If there is a male, he too will dutifully bring food, but he won't be allowed into the den where the cubs are. He won't meet them until they are around 4 weeks and older.

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The cubs start to wean on to solid foods at around three weeks old (6) and this is also when their eyes and ears are fully open. Still with a dark colour, but fluffier fur, they start to get a colour change around four weeks (7) and their snouts are becoming much more pronounced.

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Cubs are not taught to hunt by the adult foxes, this is naturally ingrained, and much as a kitten will play with toy mice, and rough and tumble wrestling with its littermates, cubs will do the same, but it's leaves, twigs, stones, food cartons or a stolen shoe that's within their play area. This "playing" is simply perfecting their future hunting skills. They also already know to bury, or cache, excess food, they are not taught this action. We once had a 1-week old cub brought in, and when he was around 4-weeks, I observed him stashing some chicken in the corner of his bed! Clearly, no parent fox could teach this, as he was being raised by humans. So we don't need to worry about how our released cubs will fair out there, because instinct takes over, and they just know.

 

By around seven to eight weeks, (8) they resemble miniature versions of adult foxes and will still nurse from the vixen. They can still nurse up to three months old but she will be limiting them so she can dry up her supplies, plus, it's most likely more painful too.

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By late summer to early autumn, the cubs are now indistinguishable from the adults, (9) and this is when the Cubs go off to seek their own territory. People will often report seeing "packs of foxes" or groups of foxes stalking a cat, foxes do not hunt in a pack, what people are actually witnessing, is juvenile fox cubs play hunting. A quick retaliation scratch from the cat is enough to put the fear of cats into them at that tender age.

 

Dispersal season can also be an unsettling time, perhaps with lots of vocalisation as the cubs bicker and squabble over territory, and dominance with other foxes.

 

By October things tend to settle down until mating season begins again.

 

The cubs who were born this year will be sexually mature to mate, becoming parents themselves at just one-year-old. Though not all foxes will mate. Most of the time, it is only the dominant vixens who do, but it has been known for two vixens to co-parent two litters together. (10)

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Equipment
 

Catch Net on Telescopic Pole

We use Carp nets, (11) as these are a large hooped net and perfect for foxes. They often break, so, it may be an idea to invest in two nets and poles so you are never caught out. Happened to me, and it was only pure luck I still managed to catch the fox!

 

Grasper or catch noose. (12) These aren't cheap, but can be vital in many rescue situations where dense foliage and branches will just get caught on your net, or if foxes are hanging from a fence, under decking, cars and such like. It's a means of getting the fox secured and restrained. It loops over the head, and you tighten around the neck. It isn't a nice contraption, can be dangerous to the animal, but, can be a game-changer in a sticky situation.

 

A grasper would only ever be used on an adult fox, never on cubs.