As a wildlife rehabilitator, I have seen injured and orphaned wildlife presented to Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center in many ways over the past three decades. Some come in odd containers, primarily because folks need to utilize what is near at hand. Birds have arrived in brown paper lunch bags, owls in garbage cans, etc. Boxes can hold surprises as well. Friend and fellow rehabber, Peggy Hentz calls these “magic boxes”. A baby Bald eagle goes into the box, and magically emerges as an adult white-headed pigeon. An injured hawk “poof!” morphs into a ferocious grouse!
Boxes also give me pause for another reason. It has become all the rage to dispose of animals in public parking lots. The creatures lucky enough to be found, gain instant fame via the media and those lucky few are saved. Sadly many are not found in time, and we never here about those. This Spring, a small cardboard box was left by a clothing recycling bin in a Walmart parking lot. By pure happenstance a woman, parked near the bin passed by the box and heard a quiet whining sound emanating from the carton. Believing puppies or kittens were inside, she opened the box to find eight tiny fox kits, eyes just beginning to open, left to whatever fate should befall them.
After making several calls to police and other authorities, the kind woman found the contact information for Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center and delivered the fuzzy gray lethargic fox kits to our clinic. With no clue what became of the parents, handling of the young kits was done with gloves. Foxes are rabies vectors and can also transmit other diseases and parasites to people. Placed on heat in a large plastic tote with flannel baby blankets and given a large stuffed animal to cuddle, each was given fluids subcutaneously, weighed and examined for injuries and fleas.
A few hours later, squirming and crying, the kits received their first meal. What do we feed tiny fox kits? Why, fox formula! A company manufactures milk formulas made just for individual species of wildlife, from bunnies to bears. Served up in baby bottles with preemie nipples, the kits drank their fill. A little known housekeeping chore follows. Baby mammals do not “potty” themselves. If they did, their den would become soiled and toxic, and the odor would attract predators to the area. The mom stimulates the babies by licking them after she feeds them. Needless to say, we prefer to use tissues! Bellies full and bladders empty, the foxes fell fast asleep.
Over the next few weeks, eyes opened, health improved and the fox kits grew. A lone vixen (female) kit already in house joined them and the now group of nine kits were separated into two groups so we could monitor their next step, lapping from a dish. This was, indeed, a messy proposition! The process became much neater after a few days of practice. The first solid foods, including kitten chow and chopped mice and chicks were provided. Once the kits were no longer taking formula from a bottle, handling was eliminated except to remove and replace them for cage cleaning and to check weights. The wild fox shy nature began to show.
At seven weeks the kits were moved to a large outdoor enclosure furnished with hiding places, toys and items of enrichment. A new fox kit, admitted after being trapped in a storm drain, found new siblings. We now had TEN kits. Giant mealworms were provided to initiate the kits to the skills needed to be successful predators. They spent hours pouncing on squeaky toys and insects alike. The gray fuzz faded and was replaced by sleek reddish-orange fur, black stockings, white chests and the famous Red fox white-tipped tail.
In June, vaccinated for rabies and other potentially fatal diseases, ten healthy Red fox kits will be released into old field habitats. They will live life as all foxes should- far away from boxes in Walmart parking lots.
The Pocono Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center is a nonprofit, all-volunteer, 501c3 organization. Donations from people like you provide the support we need to provide our wildlife care and educational services. For more information please visit us on Facebook or our website www.poconowildlife.org
Katherine Uhler, MS. Director, PWREC