Monday, May 23, 2011

The Fox Whisperer

I'm really dating myself when I start reminiscing about Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom animal show.  Marlon Perkins was the white-haired host and he was assisted by a much younger Jim Fowler.  Marlon was a distinguished looking gentleman that was always riding well above the fray in the helicopter or jeep.  It was his sidekick Jim that got bit, scratched and downright filthy wrestling around with the animals inevitably caught in nets.  Hmmm...I don't recall why they always seemed to be trapping animals with the nets.  I do remember that I always felt a bit sorry for Jim, having to do all the dirty work.

Back in the days when we had three choices on the television - ABC, NBC or CBS - when we bundled foil on the ends of the TV's rabbit ears to improve reception, it was a treat to watch Wild Kingdom, a break from my father's usual programs like Star Trek, Gunsmoke and Columbo.  Wild Kingdom would travel to places like Africa, sneaking in a geography lesson along with the animal information.  I believe these guys blazed the trail for future animal show folks like Steve Irwin, minus all the crikeys, mates, and "she's a beauty" when referring to some agitated snake, lizard or croc preparing to chomp on him.

I'm feeling a kinship with Marlon lately thanks to my backyard foxes, observing their behavior and trying to improve their lot in life.  With the sun not setting these days until almost 9:00 pm, we're seeing a lot more of them.  Most evenings we see two of them, though occasionally there are three.  I've noticed that the larger fox is obviously the alpha.  I've upped my investment in England's local wildlife and now put out two tins of dog food every evening for the foxes I've come to think of as mine.  

I was putting out their food before the sun set, but the shiny tins were attracting some local ravens.  Who knew these birds so thoroughly enjoyed bits of snouts, tails and entrails from sheep or cattle?  It was amazing to me that they could gobble, or rather peck up the entire serving in about five minutes.  Now it has become my habit to wait until the foxes slink up to the back patio in search of their daily meal before I put it out for them.  

The foxes are quite interesting to watch.  They typically enter the yard from the back or side and have their nose to the ground.  They make a thorough sweep around the yard and then head for the back patio.  The older and larger of the foxes that appears to be the alpha will go right up to one of the two dog food tins, get a good grip of it in its mouth and carry it straight away to the back of the garden where it's quickly consumed.  It's pretty brave and will sit down to wait at the back of the garden until I produce the food they've come to expect.

The other fox is younger and smaller.  I'm guessing it might be the grown offspring of the larger fox.  When the younger fox gets too close to the older fox while it's eating, the older fox will bare its teeth and make a sort of hissing, growling sound.  The younger fox will cower and roll over on its back in submission.  At first I was a bit miffed that only the larger fox seemed to be getting all the food, but lately the younger fox has been making preemptive forays through the backyard, well in advance of sunset, to see if the dog food has been left out for them yet.  They've got us all trained to take notice, so I'll rush out to leave them their daily offering as soon as at least one of them puts in an appearance.

Since I started feeding the foxes about 2 months ago, they've really filled out and look healthy.  I'm sure the winters are hard on them and I can't help but feel guilty that they are being pushed out of their natural habitat by folks like me who want to reside in leafy suburbia.  I just need to make sure the foxes don't get so fat that they have a difficult time crossing local roads with a big dog food belly weighing them down.  That would kinda defeat my purpose if they got flattened by a car.

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