The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a synanthropic or “edge” species, meaning they live near and directly benefit from human-altered environments. These foxes are solitary hunters and are highly adaptable to suburban environments. Places like farms, yards with large gardens, and garbage dumps provide an ideal living situation for red foxes, giving ample cover and protection with easy access to food.
What is an “edge” species?
Red foxes prefer to live in an ecotone, the border between two habitat types. An ecotone offers a vast amount of resources that allow animals to thrive within that environment. Grassland between a forest and a desert is a great example of this. Humans have created induced ecotones (think the boundaries of a city) that mimic a natural ecotone environment. Abundant with resources, suburban environments attract many an opportunistic animal. While foxes may sneak into human environments to hunt for food and occasionally to seek shelter, they prefer to den in a more natural setting further away from human developments. Even still, with our ever-growing cities and business development growth, human-fox encounters are steadily increasing.
Food Availability and the Birth Rate Connection
One of the most important things to remember if you are to encounter a wild red fox is…DO NOT feed it. Similar to feeding an urban coyote , feeding a wild fox teaches it to rely on humans as a food source and can have disastrous consequences. Feeding a wild animal, especially by hand, will increase the chances of being bitten by that animal, and of possibly contracting a deadly disease like rabies.
Additionally, the fertility and birth rates of red foxes are based on food availability within their habitat. When food sources are abundant, foxes will give birth to more kits per litter. Feeding the animals directly, leaving garbage uncovered or leftover food unattended outside creates an artificial food supply, leading to a false sense of security for the animals. Once the feeding ceases or tourist season ends in that area, heightened competition for remaining resources is likely to occur. This can lead to starvation, higher susceptibility to injuries, and worst-case scenario: death in higher numbers. It is simply irresponsible to feed any wild animal, no matter how adorable they may be. The humane approach with a population of wild animals is simple: Do not interfere. It’s always best to let nature take its course!