Why our campus is so foxy

foxes_at_grateAccounts of foxes on campus have been circulating for weeks. Wildlife ecologist Jonathan Pauli offers his take (excerpted from a story by Chris Barncard of University Communications).

“This urban or sub-urban environment, although dramatically different than these lakes were pre-settlement, are ecosystems unto themselves, and one foxes can definitely get along in,” Pauli says. “We have a complex predator guild here – hawks and coyotes and foxes – and this is probably a very good year for those predators.”

Trees that drop acorns and hickory nuts and other food – called “mast” – for rodents such as mice and chipmunks, had a banner year.

“It could be that we’re seeing foxes on campus because there are so many ground squirrels and mice and things that foxes prey on,” Pauli says.

And it’s fairly likely that the pair seen hanging out together are more than just friends. Foxes are monogamous, Pauli explained, and this is the time of year when mates  – that’s one “dog” and one “vixen” – would be settling into a den.

“If they are paired up, and they’ve found a den, they will start breeding in a month or two,” Pauli says. “If they do have a litter, the parents will really be tied to that den, and I wouldn’t be shocked if in March or April, people begin to see pups out with their parents.”

It’s not a problem for the foxes to live so close to humans.

“It’s a wild animal, and unpredictable, so you shouldn’t try to pet them,” Pauli says. “But I don’t see anything wrong with it. If they get habituated, they will certainly get close to people. My guess is they’re eating a little bit of trash, but probably a lot of shrews and mice.”

In fact, Pauli thinks, people benefit from seeing them every once in a while.

“It’s good for humans to get the reminder that we’re not alone here,” he says. “Even though we think of campus as a place for people, it’s obviously appealing to other species. And we should be mindful of their presence.”