gray fox

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Nothing odd here — just a gray fox climbing around in a tree, like they do all the time.

Editor’s note: Doc Robin’s “beach brain” has progressed into encephalobeachitis, so once again we present a previously published column of hers, this one from way back in 2015.

You know it’s going to be one of those weeks when the boss storms into the office Monday morning and declares, “I am God!” Before you think I’m telling tales about the crazy lady I work for, please be aware that I am that boss. I may be just a little bit crazy. But, truth be told, I’m not really even one of the minor goddesses.

In my defense, that is not exactly what I meant to say. I was schlepping my usual pile of paraphernalia — laptop computer, laundry soap, squirrel (the kinds of things everyone carries with them to work, right?) into the office first thing in the morning. When I headed back out to get another armload, someone asked if I needed help.

My brain was processing whether to say, “No, I got it,” or “No, I’m good.” It came out as, “No, I’m God.” A new habitat cleaner was signing into the volunteer logbook in the office at Peace River Wildlife Center when I said it. She got such a look of terror in her eyes, I think I’ll start every Monday morning like that from now on.

What a week it turned out to be. We had the usual bumper crop of baby bunnies being brought in. They were pitched out of the nest by a lawn mower, retrieved by a Labradoodle, and trapped in a garage. One was even found in a pool. Who knew cottontails could do the backstroke?

Just like the Energizer Bunny, those little guys never seem to stop coming in. Remember to leave them for their mother to raise if they are not injured or truly orphaned or abandoned. Mama rabbits will leave their young alone for several hours between nursing visits, so just because they’re by themselves, don’t assume they’re on their own.

One of our more unusual patients so far this year is a gray fox that was brought to us by Charlotte County Animal Control Officer Finkbeiner. The fox was reportedly stuck in a fence for a few days before the property owners became aware of the situation. The adult male is resting comfortably in PRWC’s isolation ward.

Initially, he was so weak he could barely raise his head. He progressed quickly to eating on his own — he has a voracious appetite! He can now stand and walk a few steps, but his gait is still unstable.

It will be some time before we can make the determination if permanent damage was done to his spine or the nerves in one or more of his legs by the entrapment. We hope to be able to release him if he can make a full recovery.

In the meantime, he is actually a joy to work with. He is a wild animal and must be handled accordingly, but his eyes are so intelligent. He is trusting of us so far, as though he knows we are trying to help him.

We are monitoring him also for the possibility that he may have a contagious disease like canine distemper or rabies. But his progress so far diminishes the chance of that and should he survive, he will be vaccinated for those diseases.

Gray foxes are found over much of Florida. The smaller gray fox is usually more dominant than the larger red fox and will push the reds out of a shared territory. Luckily for our patient, gray foxes are not hunted quite as often as red foxes since they don’t give dogs as good a chase and their fur is not as valuable to man (although it remains pretty darned valuable to the fox!).

Foxes are “opportunivores.” They will eat anything they can get their little paws on — small mammals, birds, frogs, fruits, vegetables, etc. Although they are rarely seen since they usually only come out at night, they can be found close to human habitation, sometimes nosing through garbage. They make their dens in hollow trees, stumps, and gopher tortoise burrows.

The gray fox is one of only two canids that can actually climb trees, a skill used to avoid predators and reach food (the other is the Asian raccoon dog). A gray fox can shinny up a branchless tree and jump down, or turn its ankles to climb down backwards like a cat.

Another interesting fact about foxes: The gray fox has oval pupils, while the red fox has slit-like pupils. I don’t advocate using this method to determine at which wild animal you are looking, however. The red fox will have more red fur, black “socks” on all four legs and a white-tipped tail. The gray fox will have a little red in his predominantly gray grizzled coat and a black-tipped tail.

And since either will try to chomp you if you get close enough to see the whites (or pupils) of his eyes, you’re best off keeping your distance if you happen across one in the wild.

Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. Injured, abandoned or orphaned native wild animals are accepted at the center’s care facility (223 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Punta Gorda) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Tours of their home for permanent resident animals are available. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.

Peace River Wildlife Center is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to the care, preservation and protection of Charlotte County’s native wildlife since 1978. Injured, abandoned or orphaned native wild animals are accepted at the center’s care facility (223 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Punta Gorda) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Tours of their home for permanent resident animals are available. PRWC receives no government funding and relies entirely on private donations. For more info, visit PRWildlife.org, email PeaceRiverWildlife@yahoo.com or call 941-637-3830.

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