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)
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, assume 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.
(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.
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.
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.
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)
Catch Net on Telescopic Pole:
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.
This is basically a metal cat carrier, opens at the top only. Puppy pad lining the bottom, and some warm snuggly fleeces, vet bed, and a comforting teddy bear. Microwave heat pad, or a hot water bottle. The microwave heat pads are great, 6 minutes to heat them and they stay warm for around 9 hours. Always make sure it is covered so not to burn the cubs, and there's a cool space they can reach if they choose.
Large Metal carrier, (13): Ideally one which is not just top opening, but has a side opening too - which is usually a pull-up panel. Metal is better as easy to keep clean, and unlikely to break. Foxes have escaped out of plastic carriers, the last thing you want is to lose the fox after all the effort that went into catching it. Or, it gets loose in your car in the fast lane of the M25!! This has happened to one of our rescuers! But, I too had an escapee! The locking bar was missing on the pull-up door of my carrier and the clever fox managed to lift it and get loose! She was a very very angry fox too. Thankfully I was on a wide country lane so I just emergency stopped as she climbed into the front passenger seat. I jumped out of the ambulance, closed the door and stared in at her as she mooched around in the front, looking ever more annoyed because she couldn't get out!! Fortunately, after a few attempts, I did manage to catch her and put her in a different carrier!
Other Useful Items:
Newspapers and puppy pads to line the base of the carrier. Puppy pads are very absorbent, I have one in the carrier, with newspaper on top and a small hand towel, but I also have two under the carrier to protect my boot. Foxes are very well known for diarrhea on-demand, and urinating gallons when in a vehicle!
Towels: bath and larger hand-type towels. The bath towel is to cover over the basket so the fox is secluded away from the outside world. Hand towel for use when needing to cover and scruff the fox. Too large a towel and you'll get tangled up.
Duct tape - you never know when you'll need this!
Good quality wire cutters.
String (for re-stringing cage traps).
Torch and head torch, check batteries regularly.
You may be thinking why I haven't mentioned gloves. We don't use them. Often they're too stiff, and thick, and you cannot easily get a good feel or grip of the fox. Some rescuers do use them, but I've never needed to, and the only times I've been bitten, is when catching them to release them back home, and even then, in the last 9 years, it's only been 3 or 4 times.
Using the Equipment:
Foxes are naturally fearful of humans, even ones that appear bold, and happily stare at you from 15/20ft away, but, foxes will always move away from you if you approach too near to its comfort zone. However, being up on a shed and it's unlikely to run from a dog that's barking below because it knows the dog can't reach or climb. The same applies if a fox is in next door's garden or you see it in your own garden, but you're in the house, you bang on the window or the fence from your own side and it will just look at you, but not move away, because it knows you are safely at a distance not to bother it.
When people ring to report an unwell fox, we always ask them to approach the fox, and to observe its movements.
They often say "but if I go out there, it might run off"
Yep, this is exactly what we need to know so we can help in the best way possible, because there's no point going there, if it's uncatchable on foot. So an alternative method of capture is required, possibly a humane cage trap.
I was once told "but you have all the clever catching equipment" we do, but we still need to be able to get within touching distance to have a slight chance. Foxes can still get up and run swifter than us. These are a few old favourites of mine - "It is contained it cannot get out of the garden"
I'm always dubious of this statement because, so many times I have attended, and the fox has vanished. The person is so astonished that the fox got out, because they were so convinced it was secure. Mostly I just think, well, if it got in, it can get out again. I usually find the hole under the fence, or the gap under the side gate when scouring the area for the fox, and know, this is how he got back out. Most of the time, these foxes are not being closely watched either otherwise the householder would have noticed where it went and that it got back out.
Another favourite: "you will catch her so easily, I hand feed her all the time".
I get there, offer food and the fox just glares back at me from 30ft away! Even throwing the food, the fox is reluctant to approach me, because I'm an unfamiliar face in her garden, with a ruddy great net! Pretty intimidating for a fox to see! Even if I go in with my net behind me, they are still super wary. One householder said she was shocked that the fox wouldn't come to me! They really don't believe us when we tell them this, and only seeing it for themselves do they accept we were right. With a hand fed friendly fox, you can often ask specific questions about it, to know if you do actually have a chance or not. There is a parasite, Toxoplasmosis that affects the brain and removes all their natural fear. It's contracted from cat feces. It's why pregnant women are advised to wear gloves and wash their hands after cleaning a cat tray, or gardening. This parasite can transmit to the baby. Toxo foxes will be more dog-like, they'll follow feet, and have a distant fairyland gaze in their eyes. They would wander with no purpose or defined direction. Sometimes they will just hold food in their mouth, almost like they don't know what to do with it. There is very little chance of reversing this if it got that bad. Much like the way humans with dementia, their brain slowly dies, this is the same with these foxes. They can live in captivity, but, many sanctuaries won't accept them because of the risk of infecting other, non-toxo foxes. So, euthanasia is the only option left.
Being told that because he's not using either of the rear legs, "he won't get far...."
Oh, you would be amazed at what they can achieve and how far they can go, despite such horrific injuries!
I attended a vixen who was dragging her back legs. Fortunately, I was able to sneak a 15ft head start on her, but she still outran me, I jumped through a rose Bush and managed to net her just before she reached the hole in the fence!! Her pelvis was shattered, and it was clear she had been like this for a while, because all the skin was grazed and worn on her legs from dragging.
It is absolutely vital that poorly or injured foxes are watched by the finder until you get there. Too often they'll say they can't stay, and as always, whenever I've attended, there is no fox at the location or surrounding. I have no idea if another rescue picked it up, a member of the public took to a vet, because neither would know I'm on my way to help, or if it took itself off to its den. So, always assume the worst, that it's taken itself off, and I can no longer help it. That's a painful feeling to have. I understand people have got busy lives, but it's a small ask, to just remain with the fox, to keep dogs and other people away, and follow it as best you can, and if it does move location, ringing us back to update as necessary.
When rescuing, get into the habit of having your towel across one shoulder, so its with you once you've netted your fox. You don't know how far you might need to go in following a fox, and you'd need the towel to cover and scruff.
In the Net:
Stand with a foot on the rim of the net or the pole, and lay the towel over the fox. It should calm down and maybe even stay still once the towel is in place Remember also where you saw them facing, lift the edge of the towel to take a peek where the bitey end is. You want to grip them by their scruff, as this can help to control them easier, and they are less able to twist and bite you. Once you have a good grip, lift them from the floor, with the net, and lower the fox into your carrier. Do not remove the towel or net, but close the lid on both, and then gradually pull the towel and net through the slightly lifted lid. Don't lift it too much, a slight gap will be spotted by the fox and they can leap up and escape! Throw the towel over the carrier to help keep the fox secluded from the outside world, and ensuring that the locking pin is fully in place, and in some cases, locked into place before lifting the carrier and take to your vehicle.
With a Grasper:
The grasper, as mentioned earlier, can be dangerous, so using this should be done carefully.
Once you've secured the fox, he will likely go mad, but eventually, he should calm down. If the situation is that he's hanging head down from a fence, it's not going to be possible to easily cover the head with a towel, so get to work freeing, and once freed, and the fox is on the ground, then cover with a towel and find the scruff. Lower into your carrier, shut the lid on the pole, and with your foot on the top, loosen the noose, and draw it out of the carrier.
In extreme cases, it may not be possible to use a towel and scruff, the fox may be too frightened and be thrashing so much it's impossible to find the scruff let alone grip it, and I wouldn't advise this, but there have been times where, acting smoothly and directly, I've had to lift the fox straight into the carrier just by the noose. Make sure your carrier is right next to you, so this movement is literally a couple of seconds! It is only in extreme circumstances to do it this way, but it is not recommended.
Sometimes a fox may be on private land that you have no access. If you can, contact the owner, they may be able to allow you access. If you are able to gain access without the landowner's knowledge, you do run the risk of prosecution. Proceed with caution.
Garden hopping to catch a fox may not have this outcome, but you may get accosted by an angry householder because you're in their garden uninvited! If you explain you're trying to catch a sick fox so it doesn't die in their garden, they often let you carry on, sometimes because they don't want a dead fox in their garden. Try your best not to damage anything!
The foxes you go out to, may be simple mange, or leg injuries, always before you go, you need to know that it is indeed catchable.
You will never really know what to expect, but always be prepared for the worst. I have a tendency to run through various scenarios in my head on the way to a rescue. I will always call the finder to get more details, and to touch base so they can call me about any changes.
Try to view the garden layout if possible so you can plan how to approach the fox. Ask the finder not to speak while you are rescuing, you don't want the fox getting spooked.
Some of the foxes you rescue, might have festering wounds, possibly maggots too if it’s summertime. They are likely to smell really bad too, potentially oozing puss from wounds and abscesses. You will find fly eggs on foxes, these can often be brushed off, but this is best done in the rescue. You will develop a strong stomach for all this in time. Necrotic, infected smells, and fox poop aroma no longer make me gag.
Collapsed - described as unable to stand:
We would always use our catch net on these foxes because even though they have been described as collapsed, and appear unable or incapable of standing/running, never assume that they won't, and always be ready to react and run. Many times I've attended such fox, and when I'm a few feet away, it's got up, and ran, albeit a staggery run! Basically, its the fight or flight, and foxes are more flight! So when they see you, they will muster all their last energy to get moving away from you. With a fox this unwell, we cannot lose them, because this is very likely the only time they are going to be seen.
Stalk quietly up to them, don't speak either, their hearing is amazing, hopefully, they aren't facing in your direction, then lower your net swiftly upon them. They may spring up like a jack in a box, so you also need to be prepared for that and push down on the net pole to keep the hoop flat on the floor, they can easily slip under the net and make a run for it. Lay your towel across them to calm them down.
Circling, staggering around, falling over a lot:
These foxes might have a head trauma, ear infection, other neurological issue, but it could also be from organ failure, uraemia or septacaemia, and be fairly advanced if the fox has lost coordination.
These foxes are challenging to catch, because their direction of escape can be very erratic, so you must plan the rescue so as not to endanger any lives, public, yours or the fox. It might be a street rescue, in which case, you'll have cars going past. If possible, try to corral the fox into a garden, where its less likely to spiral into the road, we don't need you becoming a casualty, or the fox getting further injured.
Once in a garden, try to corner the fox, and you need to be ready to strike the net in any direction at a split moment.
Once netted, towel over, find the scruff, and place into the carrier.
Dragging both rear legs:
Now, this description, of being unable to use both the rear legs sounds simple, right? Can't run just on front legs, right? Wrong! You would be amazed at their ability to still get away from you, or how far they can go without the use of their back legs! I've seen these disabled foxes many times, and I'm still astounded by their sheer determination and ability to shift! Plan your method to catch carefully, if the fox is cornered, check before approaching that there are no escape routes through a gap under a fence, or a gap in the hedge, if necessary, ask finder to go the other side just in case, they can hopefully stop him in his tracks, give them a towel to use like a wall against the fox. Approach carefully, and strike down with the net, being prepared for the fox to try and escape past you.
If the fox is under a car, or inside a hedge, use your grasper, to loop over the head, and tighten around the neck, the fox will kick off, pull them smoothly out and cover immediately with a towel then scruff and lower into the carrier.
Stuck in a narrow space (between walls/shed and fence)
These types of rescues are very challenging, especially if they are out of reach. There has been occasions where none of my equipment has been quite long enough to reach them, but, you need to get them out. Gaffer tape is your best friend in those instances, where you can tape your grasper to the pole of the net (removing the net hoop)
In one such rescue I had to do this, and I still almost couldn't reach the fox! I just about managed to squeeze my body into the gap, but the gap did get narrower the deeper it went, so I could only get in so far. Thankfully, it was just enough to reach the fox with my extended grasper. Once I'd got him out, he weed on my leg, through sheer fear!
Your grasper is a very important item for these types of rescues
Some fence/shed type of scenarios mean you can only access from above. Laying across the roof of a shed is the safest way to go than walking on it, some shed roofs might not be strong enough and you risk falling through and injuring yourself. In a rescue once, I had to do this. I got the householder to bring my carrier, and because I was laying down, I couldn't lift the fox to scruff it and it was going a bit crazy, so they opened the side of the carrier and I lowered the fox in that way and they slid the door closed, I then released the noose on the grasper so they could put the carrier back on the floor and cover it for me.
Leg or tail, caught on a fence (could be a wooden fence, or chain link, stock fence with barbed wire top)
Entanglement in netting (tennis net, football net, electric poultry netting, fruit/pond netting)
We will concentrate on the fences first. (14)
These can be slightly distressing, particularly the entrapped part of the fox! Your grasper is of major importance here. It may not be possible to grasp and cover the head with a towel, because you'll have one hand on the grasper, the other dealing with releasing the entrapped limb. If it's a wire fence, just cut the wire from the fence, don't concern too much with removing from the limb, the main thing is getting them down. Removal of the wire from the limb can happen at the rescue, or securely inside a vehicle, because you cannot risk losing the fox that will absolutely need medication, and possibly amputation.
A wooden fence may need the use of a crowbar, whilst you use the grasper to restrain the fox, if the finder is with you, they can use the crowbar to prise the fence apart enough to release the limb. If you are alone, then you'll need to do it singlehandedly, so as you use your free hand to operate the crowbar, use your body to also push on the fence. My situation was a metal corrugated fence and a concrete post! Luckily the finder was with me and he was quite strong so he crowbarred the fence and we got the fox out. Sadly, there were the remains of another fox that suffered the same entrapment, but was not so fortunate to be discovered! He Said he would see if there was anything he could do to make the fence safe, hopefully he did.
Now for netting. (15 +16)
Netting may need grasper, or you can just get away with placing a towel and scruffing. It all depends, if its an adult who is jumping like a loony, then the grasper will give immediate control, then you can scruff with the towel. Cubs we do not use grasper, just towel them. Then it's simply just cutting away at the netting, so the remaining netting around the fox can be removed in a vehicle or at a wildlife centre. Cubs we try to cut them loose in the vehicle.
All animals caught in fences/netting will be subjected to constriction injuries. Even if you cannot see anything on the skin, they often always break out 24/36 hours later, the same way a blister does. So they will always need to go in for anti-inflammatory and antibiotic medication. If they don't break out after 48 hours, yay, they can go home again.
Contained secure in a shed/outbuilding, box, bin, stray cat shelter, or rescue-supplied humane cage trap:
So, these ones sound very easy. Fox is contained, not going anywhere.
Sheds are probably the most awkward, being these are often dumping grounds! Lots of hazards, as well as many places for fox to hide! Also, potentially broken floor, or a hole in the back where fox can escape..believe me, some people are totally unaware their shed is falling apart! If you are lucky enough that the shed is intact, the first mission is getting in, without the fox running out as you open the door! Open it just a crack and peer through to check he isnt right there by the door. Your next mission, is finding the fox inside it! You cannot easily start taking stuff out the door, the fox may make a run for it whilst your hands are full, and the door wide open...so, you may need to move stuff around while you are inside. Most foxes will just hunker down and not move, they know if they move, they will be seen. Once you have located the fox, you may need your grasper to restrain him with. Once you've got him, cover the head with your towel, and lift out to your carrier. Ideally, carrier should be in the shed with you, but, some sheds are so horrendously cluttered, it isn't feasible.
If a fox has been contained in a box, or dustbin, you will need your grasper again, it's slender enough to slide through a small gap, and then you just need to loop it over the head and secure.
Stray cat kennels are often fairly easy. If the finder has blocked up the exit hole, then you just need to buff your carrier up to the hole. Lift the end opening panel of your carrier, and then lift the blockade from the kennel. There should not be any gaps between the kennel or carrier. If there are, use towels to close these gaps, fox will always beeline there to evade capture! Once gaps closed, you then have to encourage the fox to leave the kennel and get into your carrier. Sometimes they go easily, other times you might need to bang on the back of the kennel. Make sure the carrier is covered with a towel, they will sometimes go through if that's covered. If not, then uncover just the opposite end of the carrier, so they think they can get out that way. If you're still having issues getting them into the carrier, you may need to use your grasper. Leaving the carrier in place, with the end door replaced, slide the grasper through the gap, once you have control of the fox, you can move the carrier, open the top, and then lift foxy into the carrier.
Humane cage trap extraction
This video shows the best way to get a fox from a trap. Sometimes it can be a bit back and forth. But get the timing right and they eventually transfer across and you can close your carrier. Make sure to use towels to cover any gaps between the carrier and trap when doing the transfer.
Foxes quite often are the victim of our carelessness with litter, and even DIY hacks, or barbaric cruelty.
Tango (17) was a cub that had got into a pop bottle. The bottle had been cut at both ends, likely used on an allotment, but, unable to free himself, he grew into the bottle. It was cutting into his skin, and sadly, by the time he was seen and subsequently caught in a humane trap, it was far too late, he had developed sepsis, and all that we could do was send him to his forever sleep.
Next is a nursing vixen (18), who had this plastic ring, possibly a drain cover, or the base for a miniature cone, around her neck! She was cage trapped, and myself and my rescuer removed it from her in the back of the ambulance. She also had a mild case of mange, so we applied a spot on for that and released her straight away. It was fortunate, that it was pretty loose that she did not need to spend any time with us, away from her cubs.
There was a fox a few years ago that had his head stuck in a pop bottle. The bottom had been cut off, likely used as a closh. No one was able to catch this fox, because he could see you coming and make a hasty getaway. He wouldn't enter traps either. He was nicknamed Bottle-fox. I believe he died without ever being caught.
We've rescued foxes that have got caught up in cable ties, it is unknown if these are deliberate homemade snares, or just an accident. When you know how difficult it is getting near a fox, these have to be snare or accidental. Snares, are largely still in use, mainly on private land, but some foxes manage to break them from the stake securing them, but suffer the snare tighten around their limb, or even around the body! We've rescued foxes in leg hold snap traps, these are illegal as far as I'm aware.
There was a fox once shot with a crossbow in Chislehurst. Thankfully, he survived despite it going through his face. The foxes in the Blackheath area that were shot with Crossbows more recently were not so lucky. The perpetrators were never caught.
Many foxes are attacked by dogs. Dogs will naturally chase, and some are cruelly encouraged to chase by their owners. Many of these foxes do not survive their injuries. Either because they have been found and caught too late, or the injuries are so horrific, they cannot recover.
These are just a few of the things I have seen.
Rescuers often attend to cubs found in people's gardens, sometimes under decking, in or under the shed. Most of the time, people don't want them there, it might not be safe, because it's a dilapidated shed, or they have a high prey-driven dog, so, its not always about disliking them, that they don't want them. I attended a litter of cubs in a man's shed in Coney Hall a few years back. He thought initially it was rats, until he really focused on this brown bundle wobbling around. I was local, so I got there fairly quickly. We emptied the shed of various boxes, furniture, and bottles of liquids, paints etc. We found the cubs, and checked them over, they were nice and chunky, not dehydrated, so I knew that mum was doing a good job. Rooting around to see if there were any other cubs, and instead, I found mum!! (19 + 20) Hiding in a tiny gap behind some cupboards!! I put the cubs with her, and said to the gentleman, leave all this stuff out here, and the door open. She may flee and initially leave the cubs behind, but she will be back after dark tonight and she will move them to another den elsewhere, and you can then repair the hole at the back of the shed so no other vixens decide it'll make a great nursery! I asked him to call me if the cubs were still there the following day. Since I didn't get that call, mumma had returned and took them. He was an avid fox lover, showing me photos of the foxes visiting his garden for the food he gives them, so, this was a safety reason for getting them out of the shed.
You do not need to worry about handling cubs, and them smelling like humans after. A vixen doesn't care what they smell like, she just wants her babies back. A rescue once added a cub the same age to a litter that were found and to be reunited. The mum collected that one too when she returned for her cubs later that night.
It is a myth that a fox would kill another vixen's cubs. As I mentioned above, some vixens can co-parent, or even take on a litter that's lost their mum. So finding a deceased lactating vixen shouldn't send you into a panic of needing to locate the cubs, because, where would you start looking? This mum might well be a good quarter mile away from her litter. You might find the cubs of a litter who's mum is still very much alive and kicking. To take them, puts her at risk of mastitis, and potentially dying as a result. So, let the cubs alert the local residents to their plight, and they certainly will.
I attended a cub call a few years ago. The householder said she could hear what sounded like ducks quacking in the orchard behind her house the night before, but didn't think anything of it. Then it was louder this day, so she investigated and found 2 little cubs wobbling around a barn there. She then said, she didn't think it was related, but that there was a dead fox in the playing field next door. I rounded up 5 cubs in total, that I estimated to be two weeks old, and then we went to check the adult in the field. Sure enough, was a lactating vixen. She'd clearly been hit on the road and only made it to about 100 yards from her litter before collapsing and passing away. She was first spotted on the Monday morning of that week, and the cubs were first heard on the Thursday evening, and rescued on the Friday. It's assumed, she must have been killed on the Sunday night, so Sunday daytime was the last feed these cubs got. It took them 4 days to start shouting for help. They were hand-reared by us, and released in that same garden later that summer.
Finding lost or abandoned cubs during the early months of the year is normal. Fox project receives around 350 cubs every spring. Many vets get people handing them in, thinking they are kittens. Less common is puppies, and once, someone thought they'd found a baby badger, so we named this one Mock Badger.
It can be a little random where cubs are found, but in all situations, ensure the safety of the cub by moving it out of any immediate danger, and calling a wildlife rescue and follow their advice throughout.
If a cub has been deliberately abandoned, this is probably because mum can sense something isn't right. She knows the baby isn't going to survive. She won't want to use her resources to raise a baby that won't live. So, she will remove it from the litter, and just leave it somewhere, to perish. When these cubs are found, rescues give medication and care, and in some cases, unwittingly cure whatever is wrong, and the cub goes on to be released. Sometimes though, they suddenly just die without any obvious reason, we don't know why, but mum certainly knew.
Just in case the cub has just been dropped when being moved to another den, place the cub in a box with fleece and hot water bottle. If no hot water bottle, then an empty pop bottle with warm water in is a very easy substitute, just make sure it has a tea-towel around it. Place box back where the cub was. If found in a road, then place near a hedge opposite where cub was found and stand well back and wait. If the area is nice and quiet, Mum should return. If she does not, then cub would need to be taken into rescue.
A small group of cubs found randomly in a gap down the side of your house, beside a shed, under an upturned wheelbarrow or similar. These are most likely being moved by mum, stay back and check on them every now and then. If it's cold, you can place them inside a box as mentioned before, but keeping them in the same place.
Finding a few cubs all above ground and shrieking and crying and wandering aimlessly Chances are, something has happened to mum, and there's no aunty taking care of them. It's highly likely they would need to come to rescue. Catch them all and secure in a box and contact a rescue.
In all orphaned cub cases, do not feed them, but get them secure and warm in a box/carrier and contact rescue and follow their advice.
The best cub rescues, are those that get back to their mum. Like these 5 who in 2014 was my very first cub reunite.
The householders were removing a large tree in their garden, and under it, was this little family of cubs! I arrived around 6ish I think, as it was beginning to get dusk. I set the cubs up in their basket, with hot water bottles and fleecy blankets. I then headed to a rear bedroom to watch and wait, and wait, and wait...
There were still some children out playing in a neighbouring garden and I was scowling to myself for them to go indoors. By now it was dark and they were stopping mumma from coming back!! I think it was around 10 pm, a security light was activated in a garden a couple of doors up and I saw the silhouette of a fox heading towards where the cubs were. A minute later I heard screeches coming from the basket and I crapped myself that this fox wasn't mumma and they were getting hurt! I was in text contact with the duty ambulance, who was off duty by then. She reassured me that the cubs have probably awoken and are shrieking for joy that their mum is back. All went quiet, and we waited still. 20 minutes later, the security light activated again, and the cub shrieks sounded for a second time!
20 minutes on and it all repeated again, and again and again, and on the last visit, I saw one of the white fleeces get thrown high in the air and across the garden, but there were no more shrieks. We waited a bit longer, and it was all quiet and no movement, so we headed down to check the basket. Sure enough, all 5 cubs were now back with mum, at her other den. Happy ending for five beautiful urban fox cubs. Back with their mum, to be raised in the wild, where they belong.
Many people have this belief that foxes kill cats. It is very very rare, and often the reasons for fox and cat fights are over food. Usually the cat is being the main aggressor towards the fox over the food. Or it's a protective vixen defending her cubs. But, even then, it rarely results in the death of a cat.
Cats have been seen being carried off by foxes, and the likely killer of the cat would have been a car, since foxes are lazy hunters and prefer easier food than the hassles of killing it! It's then assumed that the fox killed the cat. I'm not saying foxes do not kill cats, because it can happen, it just isn’t very common. People sometimes see a fox and a small dark animal in its mouth and believe this to be a kitten, when in fact its just mum fox moving her cubs.
(Photo 22) this misidentification can cause intense hype against foxes. But, you can easily see why, especially when cubs are so often mistaken as kittens.
Many people do not believe in homeopathic remedies. Some think it's trying to trick the mind. Take this remedy, and you will get well, because you think yourself well. This does not happen in reality. After all, when treating wildlife, they do not know they are receiving medication for an ailment, and yet, they get well.
The most common homeopathic remedy is for mange. There are two types available: Psorinum, supplied by Pet Perfection in pillules, or from The Fox Rescuers for free, in liquid form. This is a 7-day treatment given on something sweet.
Then there is Arsenicum Alb and Sulphur, supplied by Helios, or free from The National Fox Welfare Society. This is a 21 day treatment, again on sweet food.
There are 3 main reasons specifically for mange homeopathy failing to work, and these are:
The mange is too far advanced for homeopathy to have an effect.
The remedy was given in meaty/fatty food
It was given for far too long a duration.
Many people have used it with great success, myself included on a visiting fox. I used both remedies available on my fox, as did a lady on the fox in this photo (23).
As you can see, before, and after, what a vast difference this is. It's definitely the same fox, as I have got a during photo too (24). Here, you can clearly see the original fur line, and where he was bald, now has new fur growth.
Fox Project had supplied a humane cage to catch this particular fox, but, alas, he refused to enter it. It was too risky to give stronger, prescribed medication, since other foxes were visiting, and it was going to be impossible to target specifically, so, this was the last and only safest option.
The lady used both Psorinum for the stated 7 days, followed by Arsenicum Alb and Sulphur for 21 days, given in sweet food. This is proof that it can work, when applied correctly.
The next most common is Arnica, given to foxes with leg injuries. There is no time limit on how long this can be given.
It is an anti-inflammatory and helps quicken the healing of most limp injuries.
Limp and leg injuries are super common with foxes. They have quite skinny legs, and landing badly can cause an impact trauma to the leg or foot. Most of the time, it isnt a catastrophic break, but, these do occur.
Foxes will mostly hold up the affected leg when moving in a quick trot, or running, but may bear weight when stood still. If not weight bearing either when stopped, this doesn't mean it is a worse injury, it just means it's still quite sore. Majority of minor limp injuries heal within around 3 weeks. In other cases where its not a break, but is a tendon/ligament injury, then this could well be a permanent injury that doesn't ever get better. There is no quick treatment for this, and the fox is best off just getting on with life in the wild.
Leg breaks sometimes are more obvious, the lower part of the leg may swing much more loosely, like it's not really attached. It may bend in the wrong direction, there might be bone protruding through the skin, or, it could be dragging along the ground and unuseable. These foxes need rescuing, and more often than not, by humane cage trapping. It would most certainly result in an amputation. This can only happen for a rear leg break since foxes can still get around and make a living as a tripod with just one rear leg. With a front leg break, this unfortunately, depending on severity, may mean euthanasia. Foxes cannot easily survive with just one front leg. They are heavier on the front, so this puts additional strain on the remaining leg, as well as a heightened chance of catastrophically injuring that leg too. They dig, catch prey, and pull themselves up fences using their front legs. If its largely stable, then the best thing is antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, and kennel rest. One such fox I'd rescued was like this, but he was highly stressed in the kennel and digging to get out, risking properly breaking his leg, so we moved him to an outdoor pen. After a few days, he was digging to get out again, so we had no option but to release him earlier than he should, just to protect that leg!
Advice on most leg limps is to give Arnica, and if not improved after 2 to 3 weeks, to contact rescue again for a cage trap. By then, fox would be in a regular feeding routine, which should help make trapping more of a success.
And then the last is Infection Treatment from Pet Perfection. This is for minor cuts, wounds, and runny eyes. It was used in conjunction with Arnica (25).
This is a vixen that had a nasty facial wound. The lady could not cage trap this fox, and so, our only option was to give Arnica and Infection Treatment. It was slow going, but she began to recover, and now looks like nothing was ever wrong.
Infection Treatment is a bit like an antibiotic, granted it will not treat a huge puss-filled abscess, but if there's a minor cut or wound, or mild conjunctivitis, then it can help to keep infection at bay.
Whether you believe or not, sometimes, it is all you have left to try. Since prescribed meds, which are ultimately the best, and work fast, if you cannot get it to the target animal or watch them eat it in front of you, then you cannot change the life of another animal, or cub should they consume it instead.
I hope you have enjoyed the talk, and have gained some insight and inspiration for fox rescue.
It isn't all cutsie and cuddles, it can be stinky, mucky, and maggoty, sometimes risky too, but that poorly fox needs us, despite not knowing it.