Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Last Waltz by the Side of the Road

This fellow was dead beside the road on the way out to the farms yesterday, and I stopped to take a picture and get a chest measurement. 

Chest in rigor:  12.5 inches, and this was not a small fox.

Most fox do not live past their first year, and very few live past age three or four.  What kills them?  Flood, pneumonia, starvation, exposure, distemper, intestinal parasites, disease, rabies, poison (in the form of rat bait and leaked antifreeze), traps, mishap (fallen into manholes, trapped in vines and fencing), coyotes, dogs, and the occasional gun. 

If an adult dog fox and vixen have three litters with a total of 12 to 15 kits over their lifetime, then in a system that is already at biological capacity (as it is here in the mid-Atlantic U.S., and all over the U.K.), the mortality rate has to be phenomenal, and it is. 

So the question is not whether fox will die -- they will -- but what is the "best" way for them to go. 
Is starvation better that distemper?  Is rabies better than vehicle impact?  Is a bullet better than a trap?  Is a coyote better than a dog?

I raise the question because a very kind soul from the U.K. asks what is best for a litter of fox found in a sack beside the road?

The RSPCA way of doing business is to spend a lot of money and time "rehabilitating" these three-week old fox and then "returning them to the wild" while all the time raising money and publicity around the job.

But can you raise baby fox to adulthood and have them not get acclimated to humans? 

Setting aside that question, and even without mounted hunts or terrier work, most of these fox kits will be dead from "natural" events like road impact, starvation, and distemper within a year of being released. 

If not them, then others -- Mother Nature always levels off the glass, one way or another.  Fox are at biological carrying capacity in the U.K.  So too are badger.  That's not me saying that -- that's the Mammal Society!

The problem with the RSPCA's way of thinking is that they are focused on the wrong thing because they know almost nothing about wildlife, ecology, or what really matters in the larger scheme of things when it comes to wild animals.

A few question that need to be asked before anyone rushes in to play "rescue ranger"for distressed wildlife:
  1. Is the animal's population endangered?  If yes, then rescue. If not, see next question.
  2. Does this animal have a high reproduction rate?  Does it have babies every year?  If no, then consider rescue.  If yes, then go to question 3.
  3. Is this animal's population at carrying capacity in the area?  Is there a hunting or trapping season for it? 
If you have gotten to question 3, and the answer is yes, then rescue may feel good, but it is meaningless in the larger scheme of things and, in truth, things are likely to end badly for the rescued animal. 

I can say this last bit with some certainty because things always end badly for all wildlife. 

In forest and field, nothing dies in a warm bed with clean sheets, a morphine drip in the arm, and waltz music on the tape deck.  If that's how you want your found baby wild animal to die, then veterinary euthanasia is what you are after, and it's best to get on with it right at the beginning.  Otherwise the choice is distemper or fender, intestinal parasite or starvation, poison or trap, flood or mishap, bullet or predator.  And if not for this baby, then for the other one that its life will force off of the biological cliff because the population is at carrying capacity. 

Mother Nature always levels off the glass, one way or another.

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