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In isolation and hungry for companionship? Don’t feed the foxes, Yukon government says

With more people at home, foxes in Whitehorse are having no trouble finding a meal. The problem is, they’re starting to get comfortable

There’s more time to spare these days. Perhaps boredom is sinking in and people are craving company. For some, that comes in the form of foxes.

It’s not uncommon to spot them in Whitehorse walking along roofs and slinking around in search of food or an old leather boot to bat around. Every now and again, though, people feed the foxes. And instances of this chargeable offence are on the rise these days — a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a district conservation officer with the Yukon government.

“People are at home more often and I can see them wanting to connect with something, anything,” Dave Bakica told The Narwhal. “It passes the time, and if they feed a fox in the backyard, of course they’re going to return more.”

Foxes are also much more present right now. Not only is the territory getting more hours of sunlight everyday, but it’s the animals’ denning season. Bakica said there are three known dens in downtown Whitehorse alone, one of which has at least six kits in it.

The Yukon government is telling Yukoners to stop feeding the foxes.

“There are some people that can’t help themselves,” Bakica said.

‘It’s not a healthy ecosystem to have foxes underneath my shed’

With the availability of food scraps and the odd hand-out, foxes are more likely to visit populated areas, becoming more comfortable with the local people. This introduces human-animal conflict, Bakica said. 

Numerous issues can occur when foxes frequent urban areas: there’s a greater chance of them being struck by cars and foxes have been known to den beneath buildings, creating tunnels that can cause structural issues. Then there are the diseases such as rabies that foxes can transmit to pets, Bakica said.

 “The problem is now the dens aren’t in the greenbelt beside houses, they’re under houses. It’s not a healthy ecosystem to have foxes underneath my shed.”

Bakica said there have been reports in the past of people taking fox control into their own hands, noting one incident where someone set up a crude, makeshift trap. “The fox ended up running around with a snare around its middle,” he said. 

It’s not only a human versus animal battle, however. Feeding foxes — and the issues that come with that — also has the potential to pit person against person. 

“Typically, problems don’t happen to the people who are feeding them. It happens to their neighbours,” Bakica said. 

The Yukon government fines people $100 for feeding foxes. Depending on the severity, fox-feeding violations can wind up in court.

Are there really more foxes in Whitehorse?

In an email to The Narwhal, an Environment Yukon spokesperson said the number of foxes in the territory isn’t available, because monitoring hasn’t been completed.

But the number of foxes in Whitehorse right now isn’t unusual, Bakica said — anecdotally speaking, their numbers have been steadily increasing for the past six years. 

He said one reason behind this could be because of the pecking order of predators. Wolves have been known to prey on coyotes, while coyotes have gone after foxes. If there are fewer coyotes around, this could drive up the number of foxes. 

Coyotes and foxes also rely on similar types of food, so one of them could be out-eating their competitor, for instance,  Bakica said. But there are many factors that could influence the fox population. 

“It’s not in a vacuum,” he added.

The health of foxes is a delicate balance, Bakica said. Feeding them as a form of entertainment likely doesn’t bode well for foxes — or people.

 

Julien Gignac is The Narwhal’s Yukon correspondent, based in Whitehorse. Of Mohawk and French descent, he has a penchant for…

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