Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Ill or Injured Red-Tailed Fox

I am adding this note on January 31, 2008. I now know that the fox discussed and pictured below has mange. A complete write up addressing a fox with mange is posted at January 20, 2008.

I wish I could report that all is well in the Colvin Run Habitat, but that is not the case. Our red-tailed fox is quite ill or injured. One day last week at 10:30 in the morning, the fox was observed under the bird feeder eating sunflower seeds by the mouth full. This is not unusual behavior as the fox was seen eating sunflower seeds a year ago. As you look at these photos, do not be disturbed by his mouth as what you are seeing is the fox chewing on the seeds and spitting out the shells – much like baseball players do.

Clearly, this fox is not in good health. His eyes show a lot of stress and appear to be discolored; the area around his right eye is pull and extended – perhaps even swollen or ulcerated. He appears sunken at the hip and gut; his coat lacks luster and appears to have thinned. The black spot on his forehead is new and may be an area lacking coat. The fox was noticeably limping and favoring the back right paw (you might notice in the third photo that he is not putting weight on that right back paw). This limping (back, right paw) was observed previously in January. The fox allowed me to take photos for a full two minutes and approach him as close as 35 feet. He looked up and directly at me on two occasions; finally, he trotted off through his normal place in the brush.
I suspect that you might have three questions. First, what is causing this condition? My thoughts and those of a colleague at the office are: an injury, an infection, or age. An injury could have been caused by a fight with another animal – another fox or a coyote (coyotes have not been observed in the Habitat, but I have observed one at the Meadowlark Garden Park about 2 miles away) – or by being hit by a car. The eyes could have been injured in an animal fight. The back right paw could be the result of an animal fight or a car hitting. Of course, the injured paw (as observed with the limping) means a lost step and the inability to successfully hunt food.
Second, could this fox have rabies? My colleague suggests most likely not – as he was not staggering, not falling down, not making small circles (like his balance is off), nor acting confused (signature of advanced rabies). Further, he was not at all interested in my presence – previously over the last 12 months he has allowed by to approach him as close as I did this time. Additionally, he would not be eating at all with rabies, but looking for lots of water. He clearly was there to eat the sunflower seeds and water was available (but not approached by him) in the bird baths and the tub used for the birds.
Third, is this the Colvin Run Habitat signature red-tailed fox? I think so. All of the fox photographs taken in the Habitat over the last 12 months included our signature fox. His behavior allowing me to approach, finding him at the base of the bird feeder, and his departure directly through his normal perch in the brush all suggest that this is our fox. However, the black mark on the forehead does not show in the previous photos.

I hope that future news will be about a much improved fox.

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