I usually share photos of only a fraction of the animals I’m called to assist— the few that actually get brought into rehabilitation. The other animals I help are never “rescued” per se, but instead, mercifully euthanized because it’s the only way to assist them. This five-month-old male is one of the animals I’ve helped with canine distemper virus, a highly contagious infection that raccoons originally contracted from domestic dogs.
Raccoons, skunks, and foxes are among the most common wild victims of distemper. When this infection hits, the animal becomes congested and weak. It loses its appetite and grows confused. Soon, the “zombie” stage sets in as the infection invades the critter’s nervous system, causing it to stumble, stagger, and wander around aimlessly in the daytime, seeming unaware of its surroundings. Most, including this one, develop a haunting green glow in their eyes that becomes more intense as they near death.
Distemper is a horrible way for an animal to die and is extremely contagious, so most rehabilitators have a policy of euthanizing any animal that has it. And many states— including Tennessee— require euthanasia of wild animals with distemper because the infection looks similar to rabies. Because this condition is raging through wildlife populations in our area, most of the calls I receive right now end tragically, with a heartbreaking but necessary euthanasia.
The reason I’m sharing this is because, if you’re a pet owner, you can help! Wild animals continue to contract canine distemper not just from each other, but from domestic dogs. It’s extremely rare for a fully vaccinated adult dog to catch distemper, because there are highly effective vaccines that prevent it. You can do your part to protect wildlife by making sure your pet gets all boosters recommended by his veterinarian. Not only will immunization protect wild animals, but it will also help ensure that your own pup won’t contract this deadly disease.
Please do your part to help prevent this suffering, for the sake of your pets and your wild neighbors.
Few animals are as controversial as the red wolf. Conservationists have attempted several times to reintroduce these beautiful, majestic, ecologically important animals back into parts of their native range, but misconceptions and fear— as well as coyote interbreeding and disease— have stalled progress in their recovery.
Eliminating the red wolf did nothing to protect humans or livestock. In any ecosystem where wolves naturally exist, nature finds a way to fill the gaps. Areas without wolves become filled with coyotes. If coyotes were eliminated, feral dogs— which are much more dangerous— would take their place. Driving an animal to extinction can’t solve the basic challenges of coexistence with nature.
Red wolves continue to desperately need protection. Some methods that could promote coexistence include turbofladry, a nonlethal electrical fence method used widely overseas, and livestock compensation programs to help farmers recover losses that occur as a result of wild wolves.
You might have noticed that most recent photos of animals at For Fox Sake are raccoons. But trash pandas are, by no means, the only kind of animal I assist!
My facility is licensed to rehabilitate Tennessee’s “rabies vector species”: raccoons, grey foxes, red foxes, striped skunks, and Eastern spotted skunks. All of these animals typically breed in spring. Although I have heard rehabilitators in other states say they are occasionally still getting orphaned skunks and foxes, I believe Hamilton County’s foxes and skunks are all nearly grown at this point, whereas many raccoons this year had second litters born in fall.
Skunks and foxes also simply aren’t as common as raccoons in areas where people are likely to notice the ones that need help. And, tragically, Eastern spotted skunks have become so rare that they are presumed extinct in this region of Tennessee.
Although legal restrictions prevent me from accepting bats or coyotes for rehabilitation, I can also do on-site field rescues for bats (such as helping one that is stuck in a net) and can transport sick and injured coyotes for humane euthanasia. I also know a network of other local rehabbers who specialize in raptors, songbirds, opossums, rabbits, deer, squirrels, and reptiles, and can help you get in touch with a person who can assist your specific needs.
Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, also known as EPM, is a dreaded fear for many horse owners— and understandably so. This condition is very serious and can be difficult and expensive to treat.
Opossums are short-term hosts for the parasite that causes EPM, and horses contract it when an opossum poops in its feed. A lot of horse owners interpret this to mean that the best way to protect their horses is to kill or remove opossums from their property.
Science has shown that this doesn’t work, for a few reasons. Opossums are master scavengers and will move into any suitable territory, so moving or killing a handful of opossums will just invite others to move in. In the absence of opossums, rodents and raccoons lose their main competitors and will take over the open territory, and are more likely to carry diseases than opossums. Opossums also eat thousands of ticks every week, so moving them away from your property will inevitably lead to an explosion of ticks, as well as the serious diseases they carry.
So what’s a concerned horse owner to do? The first step is to make sure you’re storing your feed in sanitary conditions to whatever extent you’re able. The second is to dispose of animal carcasses as soon as possible when you find them on your property. Believe it or not, opossums don’t naturally carry the EPM parasite, but actually ingest it when eating decaying cats, skunks, and raccoons, which are key hosts for one phase of the parasite’s life cycle.
If you have barn cats, keep their populations in check through spaying and neutering, and make sure they are vaccinated and in good health, to minimize the chances of an opossum finding and eating deceased cats.
Any case of EPM is a tragedy, and no horse or its owner should have to endure such a disaster. But mass-exterminating opossums can’t solve the problem. We need to learn steps to safely coexist.
Most of my fellow Chattanoogans are familiar with these cuties, who are a popular attraction at the Tennessee Aquarium! The North American river otter is considered an indicator species, meaning that its presence (or absence) in an ecosystem is a major indicator of the health of the environment. As sensitive animals at the top of the food chain, they are often the first to succumb to habitat loss, pollution, and introduced diseases.
Because of this, it’s no wonder that otters were once nearly extirpated throughout the state. Over-trapping— particularly when combined with diseases from cats and dogs and the destruction and pollution of Tennessee waterways— caused Tennessee’s river otters to nearly vanish.
Fortunately, the Tennessee state government began working in the 1980s to re-stock otters through most of their former range, and to keep their habitats protected. Today, you can see otters once again through much of the state, particularly within protected habitats in East Tennessee’s mountains.