Part 2: The urban fox population illustrates the need to protect Ontario’s ecosystems

“They entered the portal.”

There comes a time when releasing a rescued wild animal feels like disappearing into a ‘portal’. Often it is dense forest or tall grass that suddenly swallows the creature back into its natural habitat, where it returns to the perfect hiding place.

Animals that come to the rescue are often injured and anxious to return home. Once healthy, they return to nature in the blink of an eye. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get to see them play or explore for a bit, before they’re gone forever, hopefully thriving after their rehabilitation journey.

Procyon Wildlife specializes in saving the life of an injured or orphan. A registered and licensed charity in Beeton, Ontario, operating solely on local donations and sponsors, it sees raccoons, squirrels, deer, coyotes, opossums, rabbits, sometimes birds of prey like hawks, falcons and owls, small reptiles and more. Caring for so many animals requires a dedicated team of workers and volunteers, but they are always looking to expand.

Marlena Perich, a Procyon volunteer for more than six years, says the experience of helping wild animals is educational and unlike any other.

“Working with wild species has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. It’s a privilege, it’s a spiritual journey, it’s so many lessons that taught me to be humble and respect the incredible biodiversity that Ontario has on a level that I can’t put into words effectively,” says Perich. “I meet so many wild creatures that most people don’t even interact with or even know how funny, complex and intelligent so many people are…and how each one has a purpose, is interconnected in a beautiful and complex tapestry. or habitat.”

Marlena Perich tours a release site in search of habitat conditions that will help rescued animals thrive.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)

Each day, the eastern gray squirrel searches the ground for insects, vegetation, seeds, nuts, and fruit. Once full, the squirrel packs the rest of the surrounding seeds into its cheeks and then buries them in scattered “caches” or pockets, particularly along the forest floor. Burying almost everything they find, a survival tactic to ensure less competition and constant access to a food source, eastern gray squirrels are estimated to be responsible for at least 30 percent of natural forest regeneration each year.

(Photos by Marlena Perich)

The animals that are brought in need specialized care, as they have little chance of surviving without help. Qualified experts provide medical attention, but more and more often they see wildlife orphaned due to human activity, such as being hit by vehicles, a worrying upward trend with no plateau in sight. Without rescues to care for and raise them before they are returned to where they belong, these orphans would likely not survive and the population of the species would face a more dire fate. Many are already on the brink, or not far from it.

Caring for wild animals comes with awesome and heartbreaking experiences. Trying to keep a wild animal “wild” is complicated when the inevitable human attachment after months of care can prevent adaptation to the harsh conditions that surround animals in their natural environment. This is the biggest challenge facing the care of imprinted animals like deer.

A rescued fox is returned to its natural habitat. The red fox is the largest of the 12 species of true foxes in the world. Their small size is deceiving as they are the top predator in their food chain, aside from humans. In 2002, Scotland banned fox hunting, followed two years later by England and Wales. They have been protected for over 100 years by the Animal Protection Act of 1911. According to the Foxhound Masters Association of America, there are still nearly 144 organized fox hunting clubs in the US and Canada.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)

Red canines are one of the countless species that maintain the balance of the ecosystem. Highly adaptable to urban environments as well, they feast on small wild mammals, such as rabbits and rats, which are known to reproduce at a very rapid rate. Those smaller animals have functions to maintain balance; they eat small insects, drop food like seeds from other animals and vegetation that would otherwise invade their habitat, but without predators like foxes they would quickly overrun a city, and with exploding populations they are the perfect recipe for uncontrollable disease outbreaks.

Foxes have long been described as having no predators, although they do compete with animals such as coyotes for space and food within their habitats. Yet another animal, previously unseen in the fox domain, is now putting enormous pressure on a variety of species, threatening the very existence of foxes in much of Ontario. Human activity is driving them out of their homes.

The sight of foxes in GTA has become common; The City of Toronto provides the following information on its website to avoid conflict with a fox:

  • Build a “prevention skirt” to help deter foxes from making a den.
  • Enclose areas under decks and patio sheds and other places where foxes can make a den
  • Keep pets inside or supervised outside.
  • Foxes will eat garbage and pet food left out in the open.
  • Take your green cart and trash cans to the curb on the morning of pickup.
  • Do not feed pets outside.
  • Foxes are more likely to visit or seek out den sites near a home where people stay indoors most of the time.
  • If you see a fox in your yard, make loud noises directed at the animal. To scare away the fox, spray it with a garden hose. This will not harm the fox.

This is the human response to a man-made problem, one that harms foxes much more than it does us.

Although if there is no immediate danger to children or pets, foxes can be useful tenants, not a threat. Coexistence is possible if we take the time to understand the extremely wide range of life we ​​encounter every day. Animals like foxes and coyotes are more afraid of humans than we are of them, but our reactions are often driven by fear and lack of education. One way to change these misconceptions and end potentially harmful confrontations (almost always the animal that suffers) is to engage or encourage schools and communities to provide outdoor education.

“On the other hand, I have the experience of being at the heart of the response to conflicts between human life and wildlife,” says Perich. “So wildlife rehabilitation has also taught me a lot about loss, grief, suffering, hard work, how not all stories end peacefully, how habitat loss due to urban sprawl, roads that cut off travel or migration routes or block access to comprehensive survival resources. as bodies of water, food, shelter. The lack of education of the growing population that lives closer to wildlife and [people] not understanding the crucial principles of coexistence that consider wildlife above selfish human interests means the sad cases we sometimes have and can’t always handle.”

Habitat fragmentation caused by road and subdivision development causes vehicles to kill foxes, as speeding drivers are often unaware of the vast amount of wildlife that surrounds every city and town in Ontario. Total habitat loss due to sprawling subdivisions and massive highways is the biggest human threat, not just to foxes.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)

Volunteering to help wildlife has great benefits for the animals and also for the humans involved. Countless studies have documented the many positives that come from spending time in nature, improving one’s mental health, helping our natural world survive and thrive can provide an entirely different perspective in an increasingly chaotic time.

Spending time helping wild animals can be a boon to another increasingly important challenge facing humans today: climate anxiety. Giving back directly to the environment where our behaviors have had a direct negative impact is a very effective way to restore hope to a seemingly bleak situation.

Raccoons are the scavengers of the woods. These opportunistic eaters will eat anything they can get their little hands on. Easily adapted to an urban habitat, masked omnivores thrive anywhere there is access to food and water, although their preference is lush green spaces. A common myth about raccoons is that they like to ‘wash’ their food before eating it; they do not produce saliva and need liquid to help some drier foods go down smoothly.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)

Perich says it’s hard to find people who care enough to stay engaged, but it’s been rewarding to build friendships with those who do.

“I have also experienced community and what it means when wonderful people come together to do whatever they can to offset human-wildlife conflict to help so many great and small wildlife who deserve a second chance at life as far as they can. be a medium world.”

It is difficult but necessary work, especially as habitats are being rapidly lost not only to development, but also to climate change, the consequence of our human-eating approach to life on Earth.

Many residents of the GTA and other parts of Ontario have seen more and more foxes strutting down their streets and running into backyards. While they can cohabit with humans, their long-term survival will be threatened if habitat continues to disappear at the rate of our growing human population.

(Alexis Wright/The Pointer)

Perich and others committed to rescue work realize in the grand scheme of our environmental crisis, an animal can seem insignificant. But when you see our incredibly complex planetary ecosystem as it should, as a massive interdependent sphere that supports all connected life, removing a key piece in this delicate balancing act is like a game of Jenga.

The whole thing will eventually come crashing down.

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Twitter: @lextoinfinity

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