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Posts Tagged ‘red foxes’

red fox new jersey

New Jersey is a place I think of when I think of a place where animal rights ideology has become quite pernicious.  It is a densely-populated state that still has a lot of wild areas still left within its borders, but wildlife management decisions that include lethal control are quite controversial in that state.

For example, in my state of West Virginia, we have plenty of black bears. Black bears are state symbol, and if you go to any gift shop in the state, there will be black bears featured on so many different object. We love our bears, but we also manage them with hunting season.

New Jersey has the same species of bear, and this bear species is one of the few large carnivorans that is experiencing a population increase. Biologists know that hunting a few black bears every year doesn’t harm their populations at all, and in my state, bear tags go to promote bear conservation and to mitigate any issues between people and bears. Hunting these bears also gives the bears a healthy fear of humans, and it is virtually unknown for a bear to attack someone here. New Jersey has had a bear hunt for the past few years, but it has been met with far more controversy there than it ever would be here. Checking stations get protesters, as do wildlife management areas that are open to bear hunting.

Since the bear hunt began, human and bear conflicts have gone down dramatically. The population is thinned out a bit, and the bears learn that people aren’t to be approached.  But those potential conservation gains are likely to be erased sooner rather than later.

The animal rights people have become powerful enough in that state that no Democrat can make it through the primaries without pledging to end the bear hunt. The new Democratic governor wants to do away with the bear hunt.

But the bear hunt isn’t the only place where the animal rights people are forcing misguided policy.

A few days ago, I posted a piece about the inherent conflict between animal rights ideology and conservation, and it didn’t take me long to find an article about red foxes in Brigantine, New Jersey. Brigantine is an island off the New Jersey coast.

Like most places in the Mid-Atlantic, it has a healthy population of red foxes, but it also has a nesting shorebird population, which the foxes do endanger. One of the shorebirds that nests on the island is the piping plover, a species that is listed as “near threatened” by the IUCN.  Red knot also use the island on their migrations between South America and their Canadian arctic nesting ground. This species is also listed as near threatened, and both New Jersey and Delaware have enacted regulations and programs to protect them.

At Brigantine, people began to discover dead red foxes in the sand dunes, and because red foxes are canids and canids are charismatic. It was speculated that the foxes were poisoned, and the state DEP was asked if the agency had been poisoning foxes there.

The state apparently answered that it had no been poisoning foxes on Brigantine’s beaches. It has been trapping and shooting red foxes.

To me, the state’s management policy makes perfect sense. North American red foxes are in no way endangered or threatened. Their numbers and range have only increased since European settlement, and they are classic mesopredators.  Mesopredators are those species of predator whose numbers would normally be checked by larger ones, but when those larger ones are removed, the smaller predators have population increases. These increased numbers of smaller predators wind up harming their own prey populations.

This phenomenon is called “mesopredator release.” It is an important hypothesis that is only now starting to gain traction in wildlife management science. What it essentially means is that without larger predators to check the population of the smaller ones, it is important to have some level of controls on these mesopredators to protect biodiversity.

Animal rights ideology refuses to consider these issues. In fact, the article I found about these Brigantine foxes is entitled “These adorable foxes are being shot to death by the state.”   The article title is clickbaitish, because the journalist interviewed a spokesperson at the DEP, who clearly explained why the fox controls were implemented.

The trappers who took the foxes probably should have come up with a better way of disposing of the bodies. One should also keep in mind that New Jersey is one of the few states that has totally banned foot-hold traps for private use, so any kind of trapping is going to be controversial in that state. So the state trappers should have been much more careful.

But I doubt that this will be the end of the story. The foxes have been named “unofficial mascots” of Brigantine, and it won’t be long before politicians hear about the complaints. The fox trapping program will probably be be pared back or abandoned altogether.

And the piping plover and red knot will not find Brigantine such a nice place to be.

And so the fox lovers force their ideology onto wildlife managers, and the protection of these near threatened species becomes so much harder.

This sign was posted in 2016 after the first dead foxes were found:

save our foxes

But I don’t think many people will be posting “Save Our Piping Plovers.” Most people don’t know what a piping plover is, but red foxes are well-known.

They get their special status because they are closely related to dogs, and people find it easy to transfer feelings about their own dogs onto these animals.

This makes sense from a human perspective, but it makes very little sense in terms of ecological understanding.

And it makes little sense for the foxes, which often die by car strikes and sarcoptic mange, especially when their population densities become too high.

Death by a trapper’s gun is far more humane than mange. The traps used are mostly off-set jawed ones, ones that cannot cut the fox as it is held. The trap is little more than a handcuff that grabs it by the foot and holds it. The traps are checked at least once a day, and the fox dies with a simple shot to the head, which kills it instantly.

And the fox numbers are reduced, and the island can hold rare shorebirds better than it could before.

In trying to make a better world for wildlife, we sometimes have to kill. This is an unpleasant truth.

And this truth becomes more unpleasant when we start conflating animal rights issues with conservation issues. Yes, we should make sure that animals are treated humanely, but we cannot make the world safe for wildlife without controlling mesopredators and invasive species.

I think that most of the fox lovers do care about wildlife, but they are so removed from wildlife issues on a grand scale that it becomes harder to understand why lethal methods sometimes must be used.

My guess is these people like seeing foxes when they are at the beach and don’t really think about these issues any more than that.

It is not just the wildlife exploiters and polluters that conservationists have to worry about. The animal lovers who extend too much animal rights ideology into conservation issues are a major problem as well.

And sadly, they are often the people that are the hardest to convince that something must be changed.

I don’t have a good answer for this problem, but it is one that conservationists must consider carefully as the future turns more and more in the favor of animal rights ideology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The puppies in the photo above were dumped in a plastic carrier bag at the RSPCA’s Harnsworth Animal Hospital in North London last month.

The RSPCA vets determined that they were Staffordshire bull terriers and began rearing them as any abandoned newborn whelps.

However, don’t you think these puppies look a little strange?

The coat is a bit long. The muzzles are a bit pointed. I bet all of them have white-tipped tails.

Now unusual for Staffie crosses, I suppose, but the litter looked awfully uniform to be crossbreeds.

Well, as the weeks have progressed, the real identity of these “Staffies” has become apparent.

They aren’t bull-and-terriers after all.

They aren’t any breed of domestic dog at all.

They aren’t even members of the genus Canis.

It turns out that they are red fox kits!

Not very much like young staffies, are they?

The young foxes have been turned over to Fox Project Charity, where they are doing fine.

I don’t know if they can be released or not.

But it’s not the first time fox kits have been mistaken for domestic dogs. Last year I reported on a Chinese man whose Pomeranian was actually an Arctic fox.

And I should point out that is very hard to determine the exact identity of any neonatal puppies. I recently read about a golden retriever breeder who was raising field line dogs in England. She took the dogs to the vet to have their dewclaws removed, but the vet thought the puppies were cockers. So he docked them, too. After all, most goldens in Britain aren’t of that rich color, but it is common among English cockers.

So yes, it is easy to make these mistakes.

But at least no one chopped their tails off!

***

Please note that the British convention is to call juvenile foxes “cubs.”

As a North American, I cannot bring myself to use such nomenclature.

If it is not a big cat or a bear, it can’t have cubs.

Wolves have puppies.

Foxes have kits.

So do all mustelids, including otters and badgers.

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Photo by shakko

These look like fur-farmed foxes.

The ones that are spotted are definitely fur-farmed.

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As regular readers of this blog know, I found Timothy Treadwell’s relationship with foxes far more interesting than his relationship with bears. (Here he is with his beloved “Timmy.”)

If he’d only stayed with foxes, he’d probably be alive today, and we’d call him the “Red Fox Man.”

The real reason why I find his intimate relationship with these foxes fascinating is quite simple:

I think we can glean some insights into dog domestication from his relationship with his fox friends.

Now, I do disagree with Mr. Treadwell on the merits of fox hunting and trapping. If foxes become too densely populated, they will succumb to disease or mange and will die horrific deaths. It is better to have a controlled cull of foxes to prevent these diseases from causing a lot of suffering.

However, these foxes in Katmai National Park have never been hunted or persecuted. They have no reason to fear people. They not only scavenge and beg for food from people. Some of them, like “Timmy,” became extremely tame and even a bit bonded to people.

I think it is very likely that before we began our intense and often bizarrely creative persecution of wolves that they were rather like these foxes. They were curious and bold animals that were opportunists that would approach people without any fear. These animals were probably easily imprinted as puppies, and they were probably kept as pets by hunter-gatherers.

We know that most hunter-gatherers today keep all sorts of interesting pets, and it is very likely that wolves were kept as pets by these ancient hunter-gatherers. How long ago this happened is still up for debate– anywhere from 14,000 years ago to 135,000 years ago.

Modern wolves are generally very hard to tame, even if bottle-reared from any early age. They don’t typically make good pets, but it is very possible that this nervousness and reactivity that so marks this species is the result of a few centuries of intense persecution from our species.

Another clip.

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As regular readers of this blog know, I found Timothy Treadwell’s relationship with foxes far more interesting than his relationship with bears. (Here he is with his beloved “Timmy.”)

If he’d only stayed with foxes, he’d probably be alive today, and we’d call him the “Red Fox Man.”

The real reason why I find his intimate relationship with these foxes fascinating is quite simple:

I think we can glean some insights into dog domestication from his relationship with his fox friends.

Now, I do disagree with Mr. Treadwell on the merits of fox hunting and trapping. If foxes become too densely populated, they will succumb to disease or mange and will die horrific deaths. It is better to have a controlled cull of foxes to prevent these diseases from causing a lot of suffering.

However, these foxes in Katmai National Park have never been hunted or persecuted. They have no reason to fear people. They not only scavenge and beg for food from people. Some of them, like “Timmy,” can become extremely tame and a bit bonded to people.

I think it is very likely that before we began our intense and often bizarrely creative persecution of wolves, they were rather like these foxes. They were curious and bold animals that were opportunists that would approach people without any fear. These animals were probably easily imprinted as puppies, and they were probably kept as pets by hunter-gatherers.

We know that most hunter-gatherers today keep all sorts of interesting pets, and it is very likely that wolves were kept as pets by these ancient hunter-gatherers.

How long ago this happened is still up for debate– anywhere from 14,000 years ago to 135,000 years ago.

Modern wolves are generally very hard to tame, even if bottle-reared from any early age. They don’t typically make good pets, but it is very possible that this nervousness and reactivity that so marks this species is the result of a few centuries of intense persecution from our species.

Another clip.

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silver-fox

Last September, a melanistic red fox was spotted in Britain. The article is here.

There  are a few inaccuries in the article. The first of these is that black or silver foxes in Europe are extremely uncommon and probably always were. It is an interesting theory that the silvers/blacks were all killed off because of hunting.  I just think the genes that cause that coloration have always been rare in Europe. I don’t know whether

Virtually all silver foxes descend from North American populations. In fact, I’ll go as far as to suggest that all silver foxes or melanistic foxes in captivity are descended from North American populations.

And these populations are native.

Native?

Well, where I live, there are no native red foxes. If you live in the US east of the Mississippi, except northernmost New England and Upstate New York, the red foxes are descended from English imports. This map of red fox subspecies in North America is really good. Number 6 is the subspecies that is descended from imported foxes. All of the rest are native.

However, in other parts of North America, including virtually all of Canada, red foxes are native. And in parts of the Maritimes, black foxes, were more common than reds. These foxes were in demand for the fur trade.

It was in the province of Prince Edward Island that the silver fox was developed as a fur farm animal. The island had a large number of melanistic foxes that sometimes had silver hairs. These foxes were captured and bred as domestic animals, although the truly domesticated strain that we often talk about was started in the Soviet Union in the 1950’s. They were selected for the silver coloration over the solid black coloration. I am uncertain whet ther PEI foxes were native to that province, which is an island, or whether they were introduced from the mainland. However, coyotes live on PEI. These coyotes walked across the ice in the Northumberland Strait to get there. It would make sense that red foxes would be able to do the same thing.

Silver foxes and black foxes are uncommon in Europe. They are also uncommon among British red fox descendants in the US. I’ve never seen a wild silver fox. Some fool tried to turn some farm strain foxes loose here, but they did not last. Even “undomesticated” strains that have been propagated in captivity for generations cannot make it in the wild.

(This is something that needs to be considered about all sorts of carnivores currently bred in captivity. I seriously doubt  that we are going to save the tiger by breeding them for generations in captivity.)

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