In early April, I received a call from a contractor working on an island on Lake of the Woods. It seems that while working on their construction site, they had killed a vixen. Further excavation dug out her den with five tiny fox kits. They bundled them up and gave me a call to see if I could take them in. How could I refuse?
They were just opening their eyes, most likely prematurely due to the stress and exposure to bright light. I believe they were only between 8-10 days old. Stressed and scared, they cowered together, making sad little rah-rah-rah calls for mom. All I could do to comfort them was make them a cozy den, with hot water bottles and fix them a special formula made just for little wild critters like these.
Finding a suitable nipple that they would accept was a challenge. I had to alternate between preemie nipples, squirrel feeding nipples, and syringes. Each one wanted something different. And one of the little ones had issues. Her face was scrunched up into a grimace and she had trouble feeding. As she was only 150 grams, compared to the other kits who ranged from 250 to 300 grams, I did not expect her to survive. And she cried constantly for mom. In the morning, I would often find her curled up by herself, avoiding her siblings. I believe that this would be the kit that the vixen would have carried out of the den and deserted in the woods to die.
The days passed and it wasn’t long before the kits were chewing and licking the feeding apparatus rather than sucking. This to me indicated they were on the way to being weaned. Three of the kits, the larger ones, took immediately to lapping formula from a dish (wearing a lot of it in the beginning) and two still wanted to be bottle fed. But slowly, even the squishy faced kit was lapping away.
As their eyes adapted to light and they became more visually aware of their surroundings, I would take them outside on warm days to get used to the sounds and sights around the pond.
They were amazing to watch as they played and fought and pounced. I spent many hours watching from a distance. I was happy that they shied away from me for the most part, showing enthusiasm for human company only when I had their feed with me. They had voracious appetites, consuming soaked kitten chow, puppy chow, canned kitten food, partially cooked chicken, turkey, grouse, mice, and bugs…how they loved to crunch on june beetles and pine beetles!
As they grew, I moved them to a large run down by the edge of the beaver pond. They loved their newfound home, and could dig to their hearts content in the soft mud, climb the walls, pounce on any moving thing that wandered into their domain. The larger space had its drawbacks, though, as when it came to crating them to take them for their vaccines, I had my hands full. Did you know that foxes can run upside down along the ceiling of a run? Yep! and they can leap short people in a single bound, too! First set of vaccines was bad enough, but by their second set, at 14 weeks of age, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to convince them to crate up. But on a happy note, I knew they were wild and did not think humans were their friend!
Bruce and I had checked out a few places suitable for release, with lots of available wild food for them, and after changing our minds a few time, picked what I think was most perfect. No people, campers, hikers, cutters, and most importantly, not being actively trapped for furbearers. On a down side, we were covered in ticks after the release, so they will have a lot of grooming to do! I left chicken eggs stashed under logs, in the moss, and tossed in downfall, and scattered kibble far and wide to make sure they didn’t have to go cold turkey without a meal that day.
I was determined to get good release video that day. Had the GoPro strapped to my head, and my Canon set to movies. Opened a crate, turned to open a second crate, and the first two kits streaked out and were gone into the brush, turned back, second crate was empty! Already gone and joined up with the first two! Last crate I opened more slowly, and got a few seconds of video, but that was it! They were gone!
As we packed up the crates, I could hear them slowly making their ways back to each other with their rah-rah-rah contact calls. As we made our way back to the truck, it sounded like they were reunited, off on a distant hill.
Good hunting, sweet kits!