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News and Resources

Human Interactions Endanger Foxes - February 24, 2019

Last week, there was a picture posted on Facebook that featured a fox standing at the entrance of an Ocean City hotel door with the caption “thankfully he didn’t open the door.”

The post went viral. There were comments ranging from sarcasm and adoration to fear. The hotel that posted the picture followed up with a post that they had been closed for a few months and noted the fox went into the bushes, dug something up, and left. But later posted that it came back the next day.

Thanks to cell phones, social media, and human intervention, the widespread sightings of foxes in Ocean City and Assateague have been increasingly documented. More people are now realizing there is a fox population, and some are questioning why we are seeing so many.

No studies have been conducted in this area that document an increase in population. Foxes have inhabited this barrier island long before vacationers started to visit. However, it has become apparent that they have adapted to human invasion and are now becoming less reclusive to human interaction.

There are people who adore them, and there are people who fear and loath them. According to Ocean City’s animal control, there are some areas in Ocean City where people have been feeding foxes. As a  result, the foxes in those areas are not only not fearing us, they are also starting to approach people in search of a handout. It was reported a few weeks ago that a visitor and his dog were followed by a beautiful healthy fox down the boardwalk. As you can imagine, the visitor was petrified. It was later confirmed that this was one of the areas where food is left out to feed foxes.

Unfortunately, the human interaction of feeding wildlife, in this case foxes, will not bode well for our fox population. There may be many folks that adore and want to feed them; but, be rest assured there are just as many folks that view them as nasty menaces as well. If you feed them, you have pretty much handed them a death sentence.

Foxes are not federally protected, and it is legal to hunt and trap them. Of course, hunting laws protect them from being hunted in a suburban area such as Ocean City but trapping by a licensed company, sadly is perfectly legal. Which really isn’t fair for our foxes and for those of us who love our native wildlife.

So here are some facts to help resolve the fear (hopefully) for those who are not fond of this amazing species. In general, foxes are not dangerous to humans or most pets. They will feed on livestock that is small such as poultry, rabbits, or other small newborn animals. The reason they do not attack dogs, cats or humans is because they are not something that a fox sees as prey.

Foxes are part of the Canidae family, which means they're related to wolves, jackals, and dogs. But unlike their relatives, foxes are not pack animals. When raising their young, they live in small families—called a "leash of foxes" or a "skulk of foxes"—in underground burrows. Otherwise, they hunt and sleep alone. Similar to cats, foxes are most active after the sun goes down. In fact, they have vertically oriented pupils that allow them to see in dim lighting. Foxes even hunt in a similar manner to cats, by stalking and pouncing on their prey.

And that's just the beginning of the similarities. Foxes have sensitive whiskers and spines on its tongue, just like cats. They walk on their toes, which accounts for their elegant, cat-like tread. And foxes are the only member of the dog family that can climb trees—gray foxes have claws that allow them to climb and descend vertical trees quickly. Some foxes even sleep in trees—just like cats.

Although foxes are agile hunters, able to reach sprinting speeds of 30 mph, they’re actually omnivores, fancying a diverse diet that includes berries, nuts, fruit, insects, eggs, and carrion. In the wintertime, you may find these red foxes foraging alone on the edges of tall grasses before they pounce in the air to surprise attack birds or rodents, which they may bring back to their den to store for later. It is not unusual, particularly in the wintertime when days are short, to see these foxes out before the sun goes down, as they are crepuscular animals, exhibiting most activity at dawn and dusk.

As development continues, interactions with wildlife such as foxes will also continue. It’s important to remember to avoid feeding foxes and encouraging their interactions with people. If you happen to see a fox exhibiting unusual behavior, contact Ocean City Animal Control at 410-723-6649. They can accurately assess the fox’s condition and determine the appropriate action to take.

Smith is the Development and Marketing Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.



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