In May when Melissa Collins, my LDWF permit officer, came out to approve my first enclosure, she was also able to explore the property. Melissa is a biologist who has a deep understanding of ecosystems and wildlife, so I looked to her to help me decide on a release site for 2017. As we walked the property, we both started to feel that this would be a perfect place.
The immediate area consists of large tracts of forested land, agricultural fields, and rural homes on at least 3 acres of land each. Many of these homesteads are left relatively wild and are lush with wooded areas and ponds. Three bayous surround this area and are part of the a 10,000 + acre sub-basin that is an ancient backwater swamp of the Mississippi River. This sub-basin is part of a larger 20,000-acre basin. The property that holds the fox enclosures backs up directly to this 30,000+ acres of diverse forested wetland ecosystem of bottomland hardwood and cypress-tupelo forests, and is peppered with agricultural and rural farmland on the outskirts.
In the immediate area, Red Fox, Gray Fox, Coyote, Striped Skunk, Raccoon, Opossum, White-tailed Deer, Bobcat, Swamp Rabbit, Eastern Woodrat, mice, various hawks, and many species of snakes occur naturally. Because Red Foxes are already found in the area, as is their preferred prey (especially rats and mice, and including even small snakes for you ophidiophobes), and because the mosaic of habitats, and the corridors of bayous and powerline tracts that lead to the sub-basin, basin, and the Mississippi River, we concluded that this was a good spot to release the five kits. Yes, there are houses in the area, but they are on large tracks of land, and vehicle traffic is light. And to be honest, it's incredibly hard to find anything devoid of human habitation in Louisiana these days except in the largest swamps and marshes (which aren’t suitable for Red Foxes).
The deciding factor was that “soft release” is necessary for kits that are not trained by their parents. A soft release uses an enclosure at the release site for a period to allow for acclimation of the area, and then after the foxes are released, they are provided supplementary food near the enclosure for 2 to 3 weeks, tapering off a bit each day. In this case, I hide chicks, mice, blueberries, and other fruit and veggies around their enclosure. I monitor their visits via trail cameras. As I type this, their supplemental feeding is almost completely done, and I am down to just dropping native berries like beautyberry, elderberry, and muscadine grapes around the enclosure.
Having them released in this area would allow for a soft release, as well as allow for monitoring of their behaviors and movements until they disperse when sexually mature (September to October). I feel since this is my first time doing this, it was necessary for me to ensure they are getting the best chance of survival.
So, they've been released. It didn't go as smoothly as I had hope. I'll elaborate in my new journal entry.
For now let's just say our little overly curious boy got into a bit of trouble, got dehydrated , and he had to be re-captured, vetted, then re-released.
To add to the adventures of our problem child, as I like to refer to him, he had approached a few walkers, keeping a good distance, but he approached none the less. How did we find out? Well, we noticed this week on the Nextdoor app that someone posted about him, much to my horror! See the photo on the right of the post I saw come up on Nextdoor.
I was very worried at first, because if he can't make it in the wild and behave as a wild fox ought to, by law he will have to be euthanized. None of the others were going anywhere near people, and if they saw people, they bolted, as they should. Although a bit concerned, I had more hope than not, that if I could educate the people in the area on what to do if they see him (hazing and shooing him away in lieu of trying to befriend him by feeding) his chances of survival would rise quite a bit. He'll learn that approaching humans does nothing beneficial for him, and so in time he will stop.
And so right then I began to reply to the posts and concerns. I must say it's been a better reception than I had anticipated. Blow are some snippets of the positive replies I have received, and I feel even more so confident that we, as a small rural community, can get this boy headed in the right direction.
The reports also show very promising hunting behavior, which was wonderful to see. The more eyes we have monitoring all all the three foxes that remain in the area, the better.