Charlottetown residents asked to be on lookout for foxes

UPEI research project examining ecology and behaviour of urban red foxes on P.E.I.

Dave Stewart dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on January 19, 2014

UPEI graduate Hailey Lambe took this picture in May 2013 of two red foxes just outside their den on the Experimental Farm property in Charlottetown. Lambe also observed three kits, also known as baby foxes, around the den. The P.E.I. Urban Red Fox Research Project wants Islanders to keep reporting their sightings of red foxes to the website www.upei.ca/redfox.

©Photo special to The Guardian.

People in Charlottetown are being asked to be on the lookout for foxes.

The P.E.I. Urban Red Fox Research Project says it needs Islanders to keep reporting their sightings of red foxes to the website www.upei.ca/redfox.

Marina Silva-Opps, a terrestrial ecologist and associate professor of biology at UPEI told The Guardian that each reported sighting helps them better understand the local red fox population, how it interacts with humans on P.E.I. and will help it issue recommendations to the public.

Since the launch of the project in 2012, Islanders have reported more than 1,600 sightings of red foxes. That has helped the research team discover areas of high red fox activity in urban areas and identify possible den sites for further research. More data would allow the team to find out more, including possible health concerns.

When the team initially put the word out in October 2012 that they wanted Islanders to report sightings they received approximately 600 reported sightings that month alone.

However, things soon cooled off. Silva-Opps said reports dropped off 80 per cent and they’re hoping stories like this one help things pick back up again.

“We know very little of which habitats they use in the city during winter time or if they are still using it in the same way or the same habitats that they use in other seasons. We know little about the breeding and mating of urban foxes and we certainly don’t know much here on P.E.I.,’’ Silva-Opps said. “We would love to have more reports this season to try and document what is happening during the winter and spring.’’

The research team would like to provide the public with information that educates them on why there is no need to feed foxes, even though they often display a scrawny appearance.

Hailey Lambe, one of the researchers, said sightings helped them discover fox dens at the Experimental Farm.

“That was an interesting den because it was dug right into the ground in a field that was already plowed,’’ Lambe said. “They were there almost all spring while the crop was growing. I think I saw three kits (young foxes) at that den.’’

They’ve also been collecting fecal samples which will be used to identify the presence of canid parasites, some of which affect dogs, including lungworm and runny nose.

Silva-Opps said another graduate is collecting fox stomachs to explore what foxes eat while another is looking into peoples’ opinions on foxes, including questions about feeding them.

Silva-Opps is also supervising 10 undergraduate students who are conducting small research projects on a very specific aspect of the ecology and/or behavior of foxes and coyotes.

To report a sighting by mail, request a form by calling (902) 566-0602.