Red foxes finding homes in Bobcat Nation

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As seen in Compass and the Athens Messenger:

Red foxes finding homes in Bobcat Nation
Sep 17, 2014
By McKenzie Powell

O hio University has welcomed in more than just new students and faculty to its Athens Campus this year. Amongst OHIO Bobcats new and returning, picturesque red foxes have been seen throughout the campus.

Since the beginning of the year, three female red foxes and their kits have been spotted on and around the Athens Campus – on the University’s golf course, around the Convocation Center, and in the vicinity of Mill Street Apartments.

According to Chad Keller, environmental health coordinator for the University’s Environmental Health and Safety Office, it is estimated that at least 16 to 18 red foxes are or were living on the Athens Campus in 2014.

Staff employed with OHIO’s Department of Campus Recreation have had a front-row seat to these frolicking animals, watching them as they live and play on the University’s golf course and around the Ping Recreation Center.

Larrissa Keiser, Campus Recreation’s assistant director of promotions and assessment, reported that the staff there started seeing a female fox on the golf course this past January. The female fox and her six kits made their first appearance in March.

“I have a prime location to witness all of the foxes and the groundhogs,” Mark Ferguson, executive director of Campus Recreation, said from his office in the Ping Center overlooking the golf course. “It’s usually one of the two that I see almost on a daily basis. We saw a lot of the foxes over the summer, and for a good month or two, every time I’d look out in the Ping Center courtyard there’d be a couple of them out there playing and running around. At one point, outside of the center’s new weight room space, there was one fox sitting right by the door, like a puppy.”

“The golfers love the foxes,” said Benjah Miller, director of the University’s Golf and Tennis Center. “They’re just awesome to look at, and they’re awesome animals to watch.”

“When the kits are running around, they are just cute as a button, and the adults are very graceful,” said Keller.

And while Ohio University is home to Bobcat Nation, the OHIO community is more than happy to welcome these red foxes into the Bobcat Family for a number of reasons.

According to Keller, red foxes are not harmful to humans and actually assist his office with controlling problem critters on campus.

Before the foxes came to campus, Keller said there weren’t any significant predators on the Athens Campus, leaving the University with an overpopulation of what can be nuisance animals, including raccoons, mice and squirrels.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, red foxes typically prey on tiny mammals, including mice, groundhogs, rats, birds, rabbits and shrews. Although they are nocturnal creatures, red foxes may also hunt during the day.

“The foxes are nature’s way of helping control the vermin levels,” Keller explained.

The foxes are also a welcome sight on the University’s golf course, helping to deter geese and to control the groundhog population whose tunnels can damage the course.

The red foxes’ presence on the Athens Campus may also signal a comeback for a species whose sightings in Ohio had been declining.

Ohio is home to two species of fox – the red fox and the gray fox. Red foxes are known for their brownish-red color and the white highlights on their faces, bellies and the tip of their tails.

According to Suzanne Prange, a wildlife research biologist at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Athens office, while foxes can be found in all of Ohio’s 88 counties, the number of sightings of both species of fox had been declining. At the same time, the number of coyote sightings has been rising in the state.

In recent years, however, there has been an uptick in red fox sightings, particularly in suburban areas and especially during the spring and summer.

“It looks like the foxes are moving in closer to people as a way to get away from the coyotes,” Prange said. “I’m thinking this might be a very quick product of foxes adapting to the presence of coyotes.”

Despite their familial connection, coyotes will kill foxes as both creatures prey on the same sources of food.

Prange explained that humans, as well as their pet dogs and cats, generally have nothing to fear from red foxes. Chicken coops, however, can be attractive to red foxes.

“They may look a little bit large, but a red fox is at most 10 to 15 pounds,” she said. “They cause absolutely no danger to humans.”

And while the red foxes on the Athens Campus haven’t been seen as much since students returned to campus for fall semester, they are still around. In fact, Keller requested that people drive carefully around the Athens Campus as two red foxes have been killed by vehicles in recent weeks.

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