No Safe Litter

We’ve all done it at some point: tossed a banana peel, apple core, or sandwich crust out of our car windows. Many people believe this is safe because food scraps are biodegradable. Unfortunately, food waste has become a leading cause of death for wildlife. When you toss food out the window, it attracts hungry animals of all kinds. If they get hit by traffic, their bodies then attract scavengers. If any of the victims are mothers, their babies will starve soon after. One apple core can create a domino effect of preventable deaths.

Please hold onto your trash until you are able to throw it away or compost it appropriately.

Bobcats: Black Panthers in the South

Believe it or not, it’s possible see wild black panthers, like this one here, naturally in the Southeastern U.S. Although most commonly applied to leopards and jaguars, the term “black panther” can refer to any wild cat with the melanistic (black-colored) mutation. This beautiful fellow is a melanistic bobcat. Only thirteen have been conclusively confirmed in the wild, with twelve of those thirteen living right here in the Southeastern United States. The genetic mutation responsible for black bobcats is the exact same as the mutation responsible for black leopards and black jaguars.

“Can I Keep This Skunk?” NO!

Skunks are smart, cute, and sensitive. It’s no surprise that some people are tempted to keep them as pets. This is a bad idea anywhere, but here in Tennessee, it’s actually illegal as well. Skunks are one of the most common carriers for rabies and may not show symptoms at first, so rescuing a baby skunk can endanger you and your entire family. De-scenting a skunk is unethical and may cost hundreds of dollars, even if you find a Tennessee vet who is willing to illegally do it (which isn’t likely). Skunks require very specialized diets and enrichment, and can develop serious bone and muscle diseases without proper care. Plus, if you get caught with a pet skunk in Tennessee, it will be seized and euthanized. If you want to save a baby skunk you’ve found, call a licensed skunk rehabilitator. Don’t try to raise it yourself.

Why Don’t You Care About People?

“Why do you care about animals when there are so many people in need?”

It’s a common, but baffling, criticism that wildlife rehabilitators and other animal rescuers often hear.

Most people are capable of caring about more than one thing. Although I’m sure there’s some nutcase, among the seven billion people on Earth, who actually values the lives of animals over humans, but I have yet to meet them. Most animal lovers also care very deeply about issues affecting human beings. Saving an orphaned fox doesn’t mean that I do not also care about orphaned children.

Since I specialize in rabies vector species, I consider my work to be for the benefit of humans as much as it is for animals. For Fox Sake is on the border where raccoon-variant rabies is spreading westward. My work capturing, quarantining, vaccinating— and, when needed, euthanizing— high-risk animals helps control the spread of this horrible disease. It also gives people a safe alternative when they find orphaned animals, so they don’t resort to dangerously raising the animals themselves, potentially exposing their families to disease.

Much of the work of a wildlife rehabilitator is also in public education, not just when it comes to the safe handling (or avoidance!) of wildlife, but also techniques to coexist with our wild neighbors and to keep pets, livestock, and children safe without harming wild animals.

Animal rescuers shouldn’t have to defend what we do. I can’t say for certain that I’ve saved human lives but I can promise that my passion for wildlife doesn’t mean they’re the only thing I care about.

Cats Hunting Wildlife Isn’t Nature

House cats are the domesticated descendants of the African wildcat (Felis sylvestris lybica).

Our native cats, here in the Southeastern United States, are bobcats and pumas. These animals hunt to survive, not for sport, and their natural prey is well-adapted to survive their predation. The Southern U.S. ecosystem is NOT adapted to handle the massive influx of free-roaming house cats.

Cats decimate populations of native songbirds and small mammals, and spread diseases like distemper and toxoplasmosis to other wildlife. House cats are actually the leading cause of *unnatural* animal deaths in the U.S.

Allowing a house cat to roam freely and kill native animals isn’t nature. It’s an act of callous disregard for the well-being of wildlife (and your pet). If you love animals, please keep your kitty inside.

The Black Coyotes of the South

Four hundred years ago, the forests of the Southeast came alive every night with the howls of red wolves. These beautiful creatures often carried the melanistic gene, which gave them jet-black fur. Researchers believe this was because it provided an advantage when hunting in dark, densely wooded areas during the night.

Mass deforestation, hunting, and trapping drove the red wolf to near-extinction. But, beginning in the 1950s, coyotes spread east, filling the gaps that their vanishing cousins had left in our hurting ecosystem. Today, coyotes are common throughout the Southeast, and red wolves are effectively extinct in the wild. But we can still see the legacy of the red wolf in our wild coyote populations. Due to genetic influence from the red wolf, coyotes in the Southeast are not only more likely to be black, but also to be larger and to hunt in packs.

Kids and Wildlife Don’t Mix

The most heart-stopping calls I receive start like this: “My kids were playing outside and…”

Children are innocent and kind-hearted. When they see an animal that appears to be sick or hurt, their nature guides them to want to help. Unfortunately for both children and animals, this can go very, very badly. In the worst cases, children who have tried to rescue wild animals have developed rabies and died. While this is rare, it is a horrific risk that occurs any time a child handles a wild mammal.

Much, much more often, the family of the child is left subjecting the child to a series of expensive, painful post-exposure rabies shots, and the animal must be euthanized for testing. Bites from a wild animal can also be extremely painful or disfiguring, or can cause deep infections.

If you have children, please take a moment to remind them that they should never pet or handle a wild animal, and should tell an adult immediately if they find one that appears to need help.

Raccoon Torpor: It’s not rabies!

Healthy raccoons can be active in the daytime during any time of the year. But as night temperatures fall, you’re more likely to see a raccoon coming out during daylight hours. Raccoons enter a hibernation-like state during winter known as torpor. During this time, they sleep much more often, but will come out on warm days to look for food, while spending nights cuddled up in warm dens with their families. An otherwise healthy-looking raccoon is extremely unlikely to have rabies, even if you see it coming out during the day.

Hit an Animal? See if it survived.

This summer, I took several calls from people who had seen an animal lift its head or weakly stand up, after several of lying beside the road after being hit by traffic. In all of these cases, the animal had to be euthanized, although it likely could have been saved if it had help sooner.

If you hit an animal while driving, please don’t immediately assume that the animal is dead. It can’t hurt to pull over and check to see if it is still alive. If it is— or if you see baby animals nearby— please call a wildlife rehabilitator. We can’t always save animals hit by cars, but even in the worst case scenarios, we can at least help give them a peaceful end.

Foxes: Not a Danger to Kids or Pets

An adult fox weighs, on average, five to twenty pounds— the same size range as a domestic cat. Foxes eat small, easy prey like mice, rats, voles, moles, and rabbits. A fox will never attempt to prey on another carnivore, especially one that is larger than itself. Essentially all cases of non-rabid foxes “attacking” cats, dogs, and humans have occurred when the fox was cornered and acting in fear and self-defense.

It’s a good idea to keep your pets indoors and in secure, fenced areas for their general safety, and to discourage children from ever approaching wild animals. But a wild fox in your neighborhood is not a threat, and does not need to be trapped or killed.