This past weekend we released four baby foxes into the wild. Three of them had come in as orphaned siblings on May 31, 2018 from the Cave Junction area. They were approximately 3-4 weeks old at the time and were almost weaned. We were able to mix their formula with solid foods and were able to wean the foxes with limited human contact. The fourth fox came in from Medford by himself a few weeks later and was a similar size to the other three. Once out of quarantine he was introduced to the triplets. The four foxes were moved to an outdoor enclosure in mid-June where they could see our resident fox, Carson. While they did not share the same physical space with Carson, it is good for the baby foxes to see, smell and hear an adult fox. After passing all of the criteria for release, these lucky baby foxes were successfully released back into the wild on near a stream with lots of habitat for them to explore.
For the past few years at Wildlife Images, we have taken in 5-10 foxes of varying ages each year. Most of these patients come in the spring as orphans. Caring for foxes can be tricky. As babies foxes have not been taught and do not have the life experience to be wary of humans. This can be problematic for a young fox if it starts to associate humans as providing food and comfort. If it were to be dependent on humans, it would have very slim chances of surviving in the wild. In order to decrease the chance for imprinting, we wear protective gear to hide our faces and bodies from very young foxes. We limit talking around them and keep them in a room where it is quiet and away from humans for as long as possible. We never cuddle or talk to any patients. When they get older, they are moved to a rehab enclosure outside and staff feed them in certain ways so that humans are not associated with the positive relationship of bringing food. The food is either dropped through the roof of the enclosure or from a food chute. If a staff member needs to go in to feed or clean up the enclosure, we make sure to make loud noises and will use rakes and tools to pick up and stay further away from the patients.
The best chance for a baby fox is to grow up with conspecifics (other foxes). When we get in multiple babies of similar age we will put them together so that they can learn from each other. Gray foxes are naturally social and it is good for them to develop those skills early on. Before release, each baby fox needs to, among other things, be able to climb well, run fast, and must prove that they are able to hunt. They are given multiple prey options so that they can learn what a natural food source will be once they are released. Once all criteria is met, most baby foxes should be ready to release in early fall. We release baby foxes later than most mammals because they take longer to mature and grow than raccoons or skunks.