Haven’t spotted a campus fox in awhile? You’re not alone, says David Drake.
Last spring there were as many as 17 foxes on campus—including the highly visible (and adorable) Van Hise foxes as well as a second litter of kits in the Lakeshore Nature Preserve—but urban foxes have a high mortality rate, mostly due to cars. Four or five campus foxes were found dead in parking lots or roads this past year.
“There are probably a handful of foxes that survived out of the two litters, but that’s strictly a guess,” says Drake, associate professor of forest and wildlife ecology and UW-Extension wildlife specialist.
Drake and a team of students hope to start live-trapping foxes and coyotes on campus next month to help monitor their activity. They’ll hold each animal just long enough to collar it and draw a blood sample, then let it go. Foxes and coyotes pose a risk of disease to domestic animals (parvovirus and canine distemper) and humans (rabies). The blood samples are a way to assess that risk.
Drake himself hasn’t seen any foxes in a while. A UW police officer spotted one near the limnology building recently, and a dead fox was found by lot 60 a few weeks back.
The lack of fox sighting isn’t surprising. In fall, mama foxes give their children the boot. They need to raise the next generation of kits and don’t want others – including their own grown children – in their territory competing for space and resources.
“So you’ve got the foxes dispersing, mingling with other foxes, finding their own mates and territories. They are going to start breeding again soon, so they will be tied to a den. If you can figure out a den location, you will see foxes around there more frequently,” Drake says.
Foxes aren’t the best of next-door neighbors, which is why staff from Facilities Planning and Management opted to close off a den that a mating pair had used inside the walls of a big planter box next to Van Hise Hall. The foxes were bringing in dead animals to feed the kits. The whole floor was littered with carcasses; in the summer, stench and flies became an issue.
There’s a danger to both species when foxes and people get close to each other. Foxes seem harmless, but they can get aggressive if they feel they need to protect their kits from an overly curious onlooker. And if a person were to get bit or scratched, the fox would have to be killed to determine if it carried rabies.
If you spot a fox or coyote on campus or the surrounding community, please send Drake an email. That will help researchers decide where to place their live traps. Feel free to observe foxes from a safe distance, but don’t approach or feed them. If an animal looks sick or is acting abnormal, please contact UW police (608-264-2677 or firstname.lastname@example.org. They’ll contact a campus vet, if needed.
“People should enjoy foxes. It’s an impressive sight to see a fox in this urban environment. Please observe from distance and enjoy them,” Drake says.