60-SOMETHING

Vulpes, Vulpes: Did you ever think about taming a fox?

2013-07-08T17:54:00Z 2013-08-01T13:27:08Z Vulpes, Vulpes: Did you ever think about taming a fox?By Denise DeClue nwitimes.com
July 08, 2013 5:54 pm  • 

We have some vulpes vulpes around here. According to Bob Porch, wildlife biologist with the Indiana DNR, several folks from Beverly Shores have called about the big V's, red fox, living under their decks.

Most likely they're gone by now. Fox mothers stay with their young when they're nursing, and usually by mid-summer they all head off on their own. They live solitary lives in our near-rural areas, not particularly fond of humans--not always afraid, either.

Ours are probably gone, too. For awhile we saw one of them almost every day. For sure there’s a big male. My husband pointed him out in just enough time to see his bushy red tail fly by. Another day I saw his wife scamper along the same route. Maybe it was this year's BFWB (best friend with benefits--they don't mate for life).

Ms. Fox was obviously nursing her young, and she flipped down right in front of my window and scratched her back. Then, a few days ago, one of the kits, about two feet long, shot along the same path. Yah, fox (or foxes, both plurals are correct)!

These aren't the little gray fox that dug under my mom's house Florida, although Indiana is home to the gray fox as well as the red. Another wildlife biologist, Linda Byer told me that only gray fox are indigenous to the U.S.--and they climb trees! These red fox are Aesop's Fables foxes. Remember the ones in the picture books with neat little black boots, black snouts and bushy red tails? Usually they were the sly ones, the cagey fellows who conned nice little animals who were just too dumb for the fox's game.

The foxes make me giddy. Biologist Bob Porch agrees with me that they're kind of magical. "Basically they're nocturnal, so when I see one, it's really neat," he says. Are there more of them than there used to be? Maybe, because they're getting used to humans. Maybe not, because there are more and more coyotes and they love to eat baby foxes.

Knowing they’re free and untamed makes us feel a little more free ourselves, part of the natural world that was here before the highways, the power lines, the iPads.

“Untamed” is the key. Remember the fox in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery? One of my French teachers spent an entire semester reading it aloud. The lonely little prince is wandering around his little planet, when he sees a fox. "Come play with me," he says, "I am so unhappy." But the fox says, "Si tu veux un ami, apprivoise-moi!"
 -- which basically means, "If you want to be friends, first you have to tame me." The fox goes on to explain what he means by "tame."

Every day, about the same time, the little prince has to go back to the same place he saw the fox and wait. Every day the fox will come a little closer. Pretty soon they'll become used to each other, and maybe they'll become friends.

"To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world....” That's the poetic way to think about "taming." It's about making friends. But it may be totally old-fashioned. Realistically it could have taken the Little Prince thousands of years to tame that fox. That's how long scientists think it took for some wolves to evolve into dogs as they were gradually tamed by humans, who fed them scraps.

But in less that one human generation, scientists have bred very tame foxes. They did this in Russia. They selected the friendliest kits and mated them with other calm and friendly kits. After 50 fox generations, many of these little fellows get along great with folks. The foxes play with people, even wag their tails, and lick their faces. No need for any "approvoisie moi" niceties. You can even adopt your own pet fox. No kidding.

As research into DNA and the human brain continue, it looks the line between "tame" and "wild" will become increasingly blurred (consider genetically modified grains). We humans aren't so good at leaving "well enough" alone.

There's a great article in National Geographic that explains the whole thing.

A few minutes ago, I watched out the window as a huge hawk swept off a tree branch carrying a wriggling little rodent in its talons. Uh-oh. Here it comes again. Swoosh! Grab! And it's off! This time it snagged a rather large, seemingly heavy, chipmunk. Wild things, both. They don't like us people. And that's just fine with me.

Meanwhile, people with fox under there decks should check out this site--if the critters haven't already headed off to the great beyond.

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