Islanders take fox mange matters into their own hands

A group of fox lovers on P.E.I. have started to administer medicine to treat foxes affected by sarcoptic mange.  

Fox Aid P.E.I. is encouraging Islanders to report sightings of sick foxes to its Facebook page, so its volunteers can find and treat the sick animals. 

The small group of volunteers have been treating foxes on the Island for about a year now and created the Facebook page with the hope of extending their treatment across the Island.

"We wanted to do something to save what we could in the population of foxes in Prince Edward Island," said Paul Gauthier, with Fox Aid P.E.I.

Gauthier said his group has treated more than 100 foxes on the Island since it started. 

In a email a spokesperson with the Department of Environment said the province lauded the group's "genuine enthusiasm for the Island's wildlife."

However, the province also said reports of mange are down this year, and it doesn't believe there is a long-term concern for the population of foxes on P.E.I. 

Treating foxes begins with tracking behaviour

Sarcoptic mange is a disease caused by a microscopic parasite — a mite — which burrows itself into surface layers of skin causing the skin to get itchy and irritated. It can result in loss of hair, thickened crusty skin and bald areas on the face and legs.

"Eventually over a three or four month period it will kill the fox if nothing is done for it," said Gauthier. 

Gauthier is an amateur wildlife photographer and has been photographing foxes for the past six years on P.E.I.

"I'm a big time lover of foxes, which in turn makes it even harder to go out there now and see so many sick foxes and see so many that have already passed away," he said. 

Submitted by Jules Aucoin

Gauthier said when someone reaches out to the group reporting a sick fox, trained volunteers attempt to track it down and administer treatment themselves through medicated bait.

They do not give the medication — which is an over-the-counter brand used by farmers to treat cattle and sheep — to the person who spotted the fox, he said. In an email statement, the province said it does not encourage leaving medicated bait out in the open because the medicine can be toxic to some breeds of dogs and other animals. 

We do not believe there is any long-term concern for the fox population on P.E.I. — Department of Environment

Gauthier said when a fox is spotted with mange, volunteers with Fox Aid P.E.I. learn its habits and set the medicine when they know the fox will be around.

Volunteers monitor the site until the fox leaves, and if it doesn't take the medicine, it is removed and put away until the fox returns to the area. 

"We're just controlling, right now, what's being treated because we want to do it properly," he said.

Hope for government partnership

Gauthier said he hopes his group will eventually form a partnership with the province that allows them to treat foxes across the Island. 

"If we can have the government come on board with us then maybe we can set up some type of system where, oh I don't know, we could be licensed to treat or something," he said. 

Gauthier said his team have had discussions with the province about what can be done with the population of sick foxes on P.E.I. 

Submitted by Paul Gauthier

Currently, the province does not have a program to treat foxes affected by mange. 

"While mange can be treated in individual animals, the department has been advised it cannot effectively provide population-wide treatment of foxes," a spokesperson from the Department of Environment said in an email. 

"Treated animals have no future immunity. They can become re-infected at den sites, which may prolong the problem." 

Province not concerned

"We do not believe there is any long-term concern for the fox population on P.E.I.," the email said. 

The province said reports of foxes with sarcoptic mange have fallen in the Charlottetown area this year, though there are recent reports from Summerside. The Department of Environment also said it has a database of mange sightings that is shared with wildlife veterinarians at the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative at the Atlantic Veterinary College.

Stephanie vanKampen/CBC

While it might be disturbing for Islanders to see foxes affected by mange and motivate them to help, the province said, Islanders must consider the cause of the disease. 

"Like other wildlife diseases, mange outbreaks typically result from overpopulation. In urban areas, overpopulation in red foxes is linked to artificial feeding, so the most effective strategy to limit future outbreaks is to avoid feeding foxes," the Department of Environment said in the email. 

The province said it does not view the treating of foxes as something that would violate the Wildlife Conservation Act, but urges caution be exercised when providing any treatment.

The province said it will continue to assess opportunities to intervene and humanely euthanize foxes suffering the effects of sarcoptic mange. 

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