Articles and Photos by Jennifer Howard
As some of you may know I have started to do seminars* on our local foxes here in Innisfil. This spur-of-the-moment need to get out and educate was brought on suddenly when I saw a grandfather with his grandchildren feeding a young fox, up close and personal. The grandfather edging his granddaughters to take a plate of cooked chicken right to it like a dog. WRONG. These 2 little girls were maybe 5 and 8 or so. The little one with the food was nervous but he said GO, GO. Hesitantly she crept forward, the young fox doing the same. I got over there so fast, scooted the little fox away and talked to this family. Introducing myself, who I was, what I do. All to find out he did not speak or understand English. The older girl immediately spoke up and started asking good questions. They put the food away and told their grandfather why that can’t be done. Unfortunately, this fox has been fed and he is unafraid. I scooted him away several times; he wanted that food. He is a baby but he is growing into an adult. I could have stood there for hours with those children, both full of wonderment and curiosity. Amazing questions and so many of them. It was quite fulfilling. But if I hadn’t been near that could have gone very wrong.
A nervous child on her knees maybe 5 feet from a wild fox, and an unafraid wild fox. Putting food out then pulling it back. Being told to do it over and over. Do I blame the grandfather? NO. He truly didn’t know and was caught up in a beautiful young fox. In the moment. As are many. We have all fed bread to geese and ducks as kids or with our kids. Because we didn’t know any better. It’s all about educating, learning, and teaching each other.
Procyon is not only a wildlife rehabilitation centre but we are also an education centre. There are so many mistakes made where wildlife is concerned. A lot of them end up with calls to us for help. And animals coming in for us to care for, trying to sometimes undo what wrong was done. And not always being able to pull them through. Despite all our best efforts. We are not funded by the government, we run strictly on donations. And volunteers. We are at capacity which puts a strain on our volunteers. So how about we talk about how do we coexist with our wildlife friends.
What happened above can lead to so much disaster. Someone getting bitten and the animal being ordered put down. A perfectly healthy innocent animal who knows no differently. When the truth is it was the fault of the person. They should know better. Wild is wild. It is critical to its existence to stay wild. For its safety.
But also every single animal, birds, reptiles, amphibians, whatever they are, are very important to our ecosystem. Beavers are the custodians of wetlands, turtles and frogs tell us the health of a wetland. Our water. Trees clean our air. It never ends. What do we do!
Well that, my friends, is a story in itself isn’t it. We are the biggest predator towards wildlife, for that matter towards each other too, and we have done a pretty good job at littering and destroying our environment, our earth, our oceans etc. etc. And Mother Nature/earth knows it. And is showing it all over the world. We have taken so much away from our wildlife. Their homes, food sources. Where can they go? They are forced to live near us. With us. Not by any fault of their own. Trying to raise their young. They get sick, they get orphaned, they get run over. We as wildlife rehabbers try to pick up the pieces and keep them safe, make them better, help them heal and set them free again.
Let’s learn to coexist. It’s really not hard. Create beautiful gardens for them. Bush piles, water, shelter, if you absolutely must take a tree down leave 15 feet up. They will still be able to find food in there, build a home and raise their young. Plant more trees and bushes. Water features give them a place to play and cool off. Water is life. Make sure your home is free of open spaces so there is no conflict between you and a mother trying to find a safe place to have her babies. In all honesty. I welcome everything. But they can’t get into our attic. My dog goes out on leash after dusk when there may be woodsy creatures out there, that’s just where I live and we coexist and love it. For 32 years. My dog wears a bell so anything hears him out there, it has worked for years. And we teach him NO. I get so much enjoyment from all the life I see. It brings me joy, makes me smile, gets me outside. There are legalities of dogs not being off-leash in certain places. That is for a reason. Please abide by those laws.
Never feed animals because they are wild, they know how to hunt. They need to survive on their own. Food attracts many animals together which can also bring in diseases and sicknesses.
If you feed birds, keep the feeders clean, keep under the feeders clean. Because otherwise, it will attract mice which can attract foxes, skunks, raccoons, opossums even coyotes. This, as I said, can attract sicknesses between species if one is sick.
Please animal proof your homes before spring baby season arrives. Go over it with a fine-toothed comb. Check soffits, attics. Close in under your sheds or decks if you don’t want animals moving in because they may. If they do and you can let them raise their young. Moms are the babies’ best chance at survival. It can be a lot of fun and educational watching them raise their little ones. But please from a respectable distance and no feeding. If you can’t then call us before you try to take care of it yourself. We will give you information on how to get a mom to move her babies safely on her own. This makes our job a lot easier with fewer orphans and mouths to feed.
See a bear, leave it be pull in your feeders. Let it move on by itself. No need to panic or go on FB or tell the world. These beautiful animals are also being uprooted with development all around them. Let them be. Please. Mother Nature put all these animals here for a reason. They all have their place, they all are important to all of us. Beavers manage wetlands and ponds and do it well, skunks take care of grubs naturally, opossums love ticks, bats love mosquitoes etc. Foxes and coyotes love rodents and rodents are huge breeders because of that. If the supply dwindles they move, more are born and they come back. Mother Nature supplies food for them, nuts, berries, pollen, insects and more. You do not need to feed them. Stop spraying, use a broom for spiders, think of it as exercise. Spray kills. Think about the birds that depend on insects to survive. Hummingbirds eat insects too. And are tiny. Dragonflies eat insects. One life dies for another to live in the wild. Even this so-called organic lawn care kills. I’ve had baby birds die in my hands. I ask, do you spray your lawn, yes but it’s organic. The baby was fed solely from that lawn. The grubs beneath the grass, the worms etc. Let wildlife do its job. They are the pros and it’s free. Stop polluting. All this stuff runs into our lakes and streams when you spray, into our wells. Into our homes. We breathe it. Your dog eats grass. They lie on it, they lick their fur, your kids. Need I say more. I know when they spray. Because it has a horrible smell.
Let’s all do our very best at living naturally, living with our wildlife, coexisting with them, watching out for them, teaching your children at young ages to respect them. Help each other. Make spaces more wildlife-friendly. Help turtles cross the road safely in the direction they are going. In this world of disappearing habitat, theirs and ours, let’s think about our actions really hard. Help each other and help our wildlife. After all, they are sharing their space with us. They were here long before we were.
One more thing I would like to touch base on before I go. Farmlife and wildlife.
On a positive note, we have caught a couple of mangy coyotes on horse farms. Coyotes have such a bad reputation. But they shouldn’t if you get to know them and learn about them. Take that time to do so by reading Procyon volunteer Elizabeth Trickey’s article about coyotes. These horse farms welcomed them back with open arms. Because the coyotes are helping them to keep down the mice population. They do not bother or spook the horses. Win-win for all except the mice. Yes, they are curious but so are we aren’t we.
Other livestock farmers when they lose an animal take it way out in the back fields where it can become a meal. This wise step keeps coyotes unaware of the human intervention of feeding. Of course, these are livestock animals that died naturally or were born dead. The farmers tell me this system works so they can leave the coyotes alone.
Also, farmers please find ways to pen in your animals safely and securely so that they don’t become a tempting food source for predators like foxes, coyotes and fishers. Should these wild animals see “food” such as your chickens or other livestock, they are only doing what instinct tells them to do – hunt for survival!
Beavers, do you have a pond on your property or farm. Then it’s natural to have beavers move in. And it’s healthy. It means you have a good healthy pond, good water, good food supply. Stream fed. But the running water will prompt them to dam it so let them. Then install beaver baffles to let water flow properly without the sound of running water. Making everyone happy. Everyone was safe. Put fencing around the base of your trees for those you don’t want to be touched. If beavers are not happy with this tree protection they probably will move on to another location. If they run out of food they also move on. The pond replenishes itself and all is good again. It’s mother nature’s way. The way she intended for it to be. The healthy way. Please do not kill them. There is no need. Water means life. It gives life, it supports life. It attracts life. Let them be. They are all important parts of a healthy ecosystem, theirs and ours. They are incredible animals, amazing parents and great water keepers.
Learn to coexist. Please let them.
Gallery of beautiful wildlife images taken by Jen Howard