Kouchibouguac road closed to protect foxes from the people who keep feeding them

·3 min read
Daniel Gallant, ecologist at Kouchibouguac National Park, says park employees have witnessed 'highly' unusual behaviour from red foxes.  (André Audet - image credit)
Daniel Gallant, ecologist at Kouchibouguac National Park, says park employees have witnessed 'highly' unusual behaviour from red foxes. (André Audet - image credit)

Parks Canada is trying to stop the illegal feeding of foxes and other animals at Kouchibouguac National Park because their behaviour has taken an unusual, worrying turn.

Loggiecroft Road, the access point to the Loggiecroft Wharf area, will be closed until March 31 to protect wildlife and visitors from the effects of the illegal feeding, said park ecologist Daniel Gallant.

Foxes have been seen looking for humans and spending time in areas mostly occupied by visitors, Gallant said.

"This is not a normal situation," he said.

"Red foxes were congregating at that site expecting to be fed … getting less than two metres away from people begging for food."

Gallant said foxes have placed their paws on Parks Canada vehicles as employees assess the situation and were spotted circling around visitors near the wharf.

Visitors use road to see river

He called this "highly" unusual behaviour.

The Loggiecroft wharf, which sits in the northeastern point of the park, is used by visitors all year to view the Kouchibouguac River.

The national park in eastern New Brunswick is home to the red fox, considered a highly intelligent species that would normally be scared off by the presence of people, said Gallant.

But park employees have found food remains near the wharf, which is a sign the animals are being fed illegally.

Visitors have also left behind pizza, fried food, and freezer-burned items for animals to feed on, which Gallant said can be toxic for foxes and cause them to associate people with an easy way to get food.

"So they will adopt risky behaviours, for example, hanging out behind houses, along roads, where they have an increased chance of dying due to collisions with vehicles," he said.

Kate Letterick/CBC News
Kate Letterick/CBC News

"People think they're helping out an animal, but they've potentially shortened their lifespan."

Gallant said these foxes are so smart they're unlikely to unlearn the behaviour, which can have a long-term impact on their overall health and ability to hunt for themselves.

In their natural habitat, foxes will travel and feed in small social groups that often include an adult female and adult male raising their pups, but the illegal feeding of these animals can cause them to travel in much larger groups.

"So then it can become a public safety issue," Gallant said.

The red fox is a common carrier of rabies, he said, so an additional concern is that visitors will be bitten and infected with the disease.

A new issue

Gallant said park employees first saw signs of illegal feeding in the fall of 2020.

The park initially tried to address the problem by adding signs along the four-kilometre road stating "Feeding wildlife kills wildlife" and using its Facebook page to inform people about the harm done by feeding wildlife.

The issue reappeared in the fall of 2021, which is why the park has decided to take a stronger stance by cutting off access to the animals.

Gallant said larger signs will be added on the road to press the message that feeding wildlife isn't tolerated, and Parks Canada will also eep up its social media efforts to get people to co-operate.

So far, no visitors have been bitten by the foxes, but one person was charged with illegal feeding wildlife.

The fine for feeding animals illegally can be as high as $25,000.

Gallant said the goal with the road closure is to allow the animals to live in their natural habitat without disruptions through the winter.

"We're choosing to do a road closure to make sure another generation of these animals isn't compromised by illegal feeding," he said.

Winter activities still possible

He said the park hopes this will be the only time it's forced to close the road.

Park activities, including snowshoeing and skiing, are not affected by the closure.

The Osprey Trail is the only other park area that will be closed to visitors.

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