Rabies in coyotes? Rare and unlikely.

You might have read the very alarming news articles about a father in New Hampshire who strangled a coyote to death when it attacked his two-year-old. For Fox Sake commends this incredible dad for his strength and bravery in the face of such a terrifying incident.

Preying on humans is not normal behavior for a coyote. They are naturally extremely fearful, shy animals and there have only been two human deaths caused by coyotes in all of history. (Compare that to fifty each year in the U.S. caused by dogs.)

That’s why we weren’t surprised to hear that the coyote involved in this incident tested positive for rabies. Rabies often (but not always) makes animals unnaturally aggressive and fearless as the virus rages through the central nervous system.

In case you’re panicked about news involving rabid coyotes, we’d like to help calm fears by putting this risk in perspective.

In the 1990s, the strain of rabies seen most often in wolves, dogs, and coyotes was declared eradicated from the United States thanks to the rabies vaccine. While any mammal can get any strain of rabies, coyotes with other strains of rabies don’t live long and don’t “carry” the active virus without symptoms. There are no packs of rabid coyotes or rabid dogs in the U.S., and there haven’t been for decades.

The CDC, USDA, and state governments collect data on confirmed rabies cases all over the country. Bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and feral cats are consistently among the most common victims of rabies (though these cases are still relatively few). Coyotes rank at the very bottom of the statistical list, near rabbits and beavers and behind cattle and deer.

Any case of rabies is undoubtedly terrifying, but one rare, freak incident is not a reason to be fearful of an entire species that generally coexists with humans without incident. If you do see a coyote that appears sick or unnaturally aggressive, please don’t hesitate to contact authorities, but don’t rush to kill healthy animals simply because they’re the same species as an individual that got sick.

Do all skunks carry rabies?

It’s a common misconception that all skunks carry rabies. This myth probably had its start during a rabies outbreak in the 1800s that started in skunks and spread to dogs and trappers who got bitten while killing them.

We’ve come a long way since then, both in the prevention of rabies and in our understanding of it. There’s no reason to kill skunks because of outdated rabies fears!

It’s true that skunks can sometimes have rabies. Believe it or not, that’s true for any mammal, including squirrels and rabbits! While skunks are a more likely to have rabies than some species, only a very small number of skunks are actually infected with the rabies virus.

A skunk can’t transmit rabies to a person or animal unless the skunk is actually infected with rabies. And even then, rabies isn’t transmitted by simply existing on the same property— you would have to actually be bitten by the skunk or otherwise directly exposed to its fresh saliva (like through an open wound). If your pets are vaccinated, they are not at risk of catching rabies from a skunk, either— plus, they’re likely to stay away due to the smell.

It’s always wise to give wild animals space, but there’s no need to kill a healthy-looking skunk. Healthy skunks help to control rats, mice, hornets, grubs, and other pests, and are an important part of our native ecosystem. Don’t let unfounded fears keep you from enjoying the benefits that a skunk neighbor has to offer.

The Endangered Dusky Gopher Frog

People get excited about the idea of saving endangered species, but all too often, the most sensitive and critically endangered animals go unnoticed. The small, nondescript dusky gopher frog, for example, just doesn’t get the same attention as large, charismatic animals like tigers and elephants.

While they may not be particularly eye-catching, these little frogs are amazing. Since they’re very sensitive to habitat destruction and pollution, they’re considered an indicator species— a sign of whether an ecosystem is healthy. And they have an adorable behavior: when they see a predator, they use their front legs to cover their faces until the danger passes. (Awww! 🥰)

Dusky gopher frogs were last seen in Tennessee decades ago, when they were spotted twice in a wetland in Tullahoma. As pollution and development ravaged their habitat, their numbers eventually plummeted to only about a hundred individuals, living in two small ponds in Mississippi. Thankfully, several organizations are working to help the dusky gopher frog recover and eventually return to its native habitats in other area. Who knows? Maybe this rare animal will be back in Tennessee one day.

Why You Shouldn’t Feed Deer in Winter

Want to help wild deer survive the harsh winter? Don’t feed them!

During fall, a deer’s digestive system slowly changes to have a perfect combination of microbes and enzymes to digest its winter diet, which is mostly low-calorie woody vegetation. This amazing adaptation enables deer to survive long, lean winters with very little fresh food.

When suddenly fed supplemental foods like fruit and corn, the deer’s winter-adapted digestive system simply can’t adapt fast enough to properly digest these foods, and it will quickly succumb to acidosis, similar to what people with diabetes experience.

Some particularly healthy deer might survive being fed during winter, only to die later. Foods given by humans will disrupt the sensitive balance of the deer’s digestive system, making it unable to digest its normal winter diet, so it may die very slowly after several weeks of being unable to thrive on its ordinary winter staples. It may become weak, slow, or confused, or may suffer from bone deformities, or may grow skeletal and die of starvation.

Feeding deer can also encourage them to congregate unnaturally in one small area and to share a lot of germs, including those responsible for chronic wasting disease. Your good intentions could create ground zero for an epidemic!

Please don’t contribute to this problem. Enjoy your deer neighbors this winter without giving into the urge to “help” by feeding them.

Why You Should Never Relocate Wildlife

Imagine being snatched from your home and dropped off in a remote forest. You have no food or water. It’s cold and there are large predators around, but you have no shelter. Your children are home alone. Neither you nor your babies will survive than a day or two.

That’s what happens when people relocate wild animals they determine to be a nuisance.

Wild animals do not simply live “in the woods.” Like us, they have families, shelters, and places where they go for food and water. When taken away from their homes, they’re just as lost, confused, hungry, and scared as we would be.

Relocating wild animals is never a humane solution. If you have wildlife on your property, the most compassionate solution is to simply let them be. If that isn’t an option because they’re causing property damage, you can almost always get them to move out on their own by securing all entrances to your home, removing any attractants like pet food, and using humane hazing techniques like bright lights and loud noises. When animals are given the opportunity to move out independently, they’re able to find other shelters and move their family with them.

Please make compassionate choices and never move a wild animal away from its home!

The Truth About Euthanasia at For Fox Sake

We keep hearing about nasty rumors being spread about For Fox Sake. Most recently, someone publicly accused us of gassing all of our raccoons to death. (We has the less-than-professional reaction of, “Wait, WTF?” upon hearing this.)

So we’re here to clear the air because we value transparency and honesty. And here is the honest, blunt, sometimes unpleasant, verifiable truth:

We do euthanize some animals that come into our care. But we NEVER euthanize an animal unless absolutely necessary. We are in this job to save animals, not to kill them. But there are times that it *is* absolutely necessary.

Most of our euthanasia cases are because of a very contagious, very painful, essentially untreatable viral infection called canine distemper. Canine distemper is extremely common and causes immense suffering as it invades the animal’s central nervous system. It is also virtually indistinguishable from rabies. We euthanize any animal who comes to us with canine distemper because keeping these animals alive is cruel and jeopardizes the safety of every animal in our care. We don’t like doing it but we will never force an animal to suffer through such a painful disease and can’t risk the infection spreading to our other patients.

In a few cases, we have had to euthanize animals for other infections and injuries that were terminal, untreatable, and/or made it so the animal could have no quality of life. We make those decisions case-by-case and with the same care and compassion we would give a beloved pet. We do not believe in making animals suffer.

Here’s the part we hate: in some cases, state law requires us to euthanize healthy animals because they have bitten someone or because they are not releasable. In Tennessee, any bite by a wild skunk, fox, or raccoon must be treated as a possible case of rabies exposure. There is no test for rabies in a living animal, so we have no option but to comply with state law so the animals can be tested. And due to regulations by the Tennessee Department of Health, all wild-born, nonreleasable skunks, foxes, and raccoons must be euthanized. We *have to* comply with state law or we will lose our permit.

There is nothing that angers us more than having to kill healthy animals, especially because it has been preventable in 100% of cases. Every single healthy animal we’ve been forced to euthanize has been someone’s illegal pet that had become too tame to release, too old to rehabilitate, and/or had bitten someone. We are forced to kill healthy animals because of OTHER PEOPLE’S selfishness and irresponsibility, when these animals could have been saved if they came to us in infancy.

That isn’t fair to us. It isn’t fair to the animals. It isn’t what we’re here to do. And if you want us to stop doing it, spread the word that wild animals should not be kept as pets.

Don’t Move a Box Turtle Somewhere “Better”

Have you ever seen a box turtle in a busy or barren area and decided to move it elsewhere? You’re not alone. Many box turtles get moved by well-meaning people who want to help them find a better place to live than a suburban lawn near a heavily trafficked road.

The problem is that turtles die when this happens. A box turtle naturally has a small home territory just a few acres wide, and it contains the turtle’s familiar shelters, hiding spots, and feeding grounds. The turtle loses all this when suddenly dropped into a strange new place.

To make matters even more serious, box turtles are equipped with a powerful internal GPS system that compels them to return to their home range, even crossing highways and forgoing food on the long walk home. One study found that over 60% of box turtles die in their first year after being removed from their home range.

If you’re lucky enough to find a box turtle in the wild, please leave it alone! It’s already right at home where it is.

Bobcats Have Eye Spots on their Ears

The black and white marks on the back of a bobcat’s ears are actually false eyes. False eyes are very common in nature and appear on all kinds of animals, from birds to butterflies. Among cats, bobcats share their eye-spot ears with lynxes, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, pumas, and servals— among many others!

For bobcats, eye spots serve a few purposes. One is to frighten and intimidate other bobcats. When a bobcat is angry, it tends to flatten its ears against its face, which automatically turns the eyespots forward so they become more visible. This creates an illusion that makes the bobcat look very large, alert, and aggressive.

A bobcat’s eye-spotted ears also turn outward and become very visible when the animal crouches to eat or drink. This sends a message to rivals and scavengers: “I see you thinking about stealing my food, and don’t even think about it!”

Finally, when seen from behind, the eye spots on a bobcat’s ears can trick larger predators, like bears and wolves, into thinking that they’ve been spotted. They may mistake the bobcat for a larger, alert animal looking right back at them! This is particularly important for protecting kittens when they first begin hunting alone!

Domestic cats are among the few members of the cat family who lack white spots on the backs of their ears, so this trait is one helpful way that you can tell the difference between a bobcat and an ordinary house cat!

Rough Green Snakes are Excellent Neighbors!

This little gem is a rough green snake, one of our most beautiful native reptiles. Rough green snakes are excellent neighbors. They eat large numbers of cockroaches, termites, ants, crickets, earwigs, and centipedes, and also occasionally snack on newborn rats and mice. Green snakes aren’t venomous and almost never bite humans, even when provoked and handled. We’re thankful for the small but vibrant population of wild rough green snakes who live here at For Fox Sake!

Although they aren’t endangered yet, rough green snakes face several problems. Because they eat mostly insects and may live near homes and businesses, they’re very susceptible to poisoning by common pesticides. Rough green snakes are also often stolen from the wild and sold into the pet trade, where they often die prematurely from improper care. Some people also kill rough green snakes due to general fear and misunderstanding of snakes.

Please help protect our native reptiles! If you’re lucky enough to have rough green snakes (which you may not even see!) please protect them by leaving them in peace and reducing your use of lawn pesticides.

Cowbirds: “What’s with this one weird egg?”

Our native North American wildlife is amazing! You might one day see a nest with one egg that looks completely different than those around it. It’s not a mutant and you’re not crazy!

Brown-headed cowbirds are the most common nest parasites in the United States, including here in East Tennessee. Brown-headed cowbirds reproduce by laying their eggs in the nests of other birds. Cowbird eggs have been spotted in everything from hummingbird nests to owls’ nests! When the new cowbirds hatch, the unsuspecting host parents raise them along with their own young.

You might be tempted to “rescue” a host nest from a cowbird egg. Please don’t! Cowbirds aren’t evil; this is simply the way they they reproduce. Like other native birds, brown-headed cowbirds are protected by federal law. Removing a cowbird egg is also likely to cause more harm than good, since studies have found that cowbirds retaliate and destroy nests that rejected their eggs. Please let these incredible animals continue to live and reproduce in the way nature intended!