A P.E.I. group is calling for an end to trapping and hunting foxes on the Island.
Fox Aid P.E.I. is a volunteer organization that treats foxes with mange, and it has gathered almost 19,500 signatures on its online petition on change.org.
"For there to be hunters that are trapping them and killing them on top of what these foxes already have to go through, it's just not something I can fathom after us working so hard, and trying so hard to to keep these foxes alive," Jamie Gallant of Fox Aid P.E.I. told CBC Radio: Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.
"Their quality of life is already poor right now as it is, and for us to be hunting and trapping them on top of that, it's really sad."
Mange is a contagious disease caused by a microscopic parasite or mite which burrows under the skin, causing itching and irritation. It can result in loss of hair, thickened, crusty skin and bald areas on the face and legs. The animal will eventually die from starvation and exposure, according to The Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative's website.
Gallant said many people have told her they were unaware foxes were trapped on P.E.I., especially considering the red fox is the Island's official provincial animal.
She'd also like to see the province do more to prevent and treat mange in Island foxes, she said, "instead of just letting them suffer and die."
'Everyone feels bad'
"Both Fox Aid and the trappers want to see a healthy population of foxes, none of us want to see these animals suffer from mange the way they do — it is a very nasty disease," said John LeLacheur with the P.E.I. Trappers Association.
"When we see a fox with mange it's awful. Everyone feels bad about that, cause that individual is suffering a lot," LeLacheur said.
He said when trappers see a fox with mange, they have been asked to put it down and take it to the Atlantic Vet College.
He also noted since the price of fox pelts has declined, there is low demand for the pelts. Figures from the province show in recent years, the harvest of foxes has declined significantly. On average from 2014 to 2019, about 500 fox pelts were harvested each year.
"I know it's a bit of a contradiction, but we really do care for these animals," LeLacheur said.
'Population remains sustainable'
In a statement emailed to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Water and Climate Change, led by Natalie Jameson, said the province is paying attention to the petition.
"At this point, the minister is not prepared to commit to any changes. The minister is prepared to listen, with an open mind, to the concerns of all Islanders on this and other wildlife issues," the statement said.
A separate statement from Brad Potter, manager of fish and wildlife with the Department of Environment, Water and Climate Change, said the province supports sustainable consumptive uses on the land including hunting and trapping.
Potter explained mange is a natural population control mechanism that is due to an unusually high concentration of foxes which is believed to be caused by direct and indirect human feeding.
"Despite the loss of these individuals, the population remains sustainable," Potter said.
Cases of mange are down
Meanwhile, a researcher from the Atlantic Vet College said they've actually been seeing fewer dead foxes with mange.
The outbreak began in late 2016, said Megan Jones, and by 2018 they received a high of 25 dead foxes with mange at the AVC lab. In 2019, they received 10 foxes and so far this year there have been eight. The cases are mostly in Charlottetown, Stratford and Cornwall where the fox populations are dense.
They are not sure exactly why there may be fewer cases, however.
"In other places .... where the disease has shown up, it can cause the population to decline a bit, but then over time the population learns to live with it," Jones said. "If you work with wildlife like we do here, you know that all wildlife have some level of parasites in them, and ultimately they're able to learn to live with those parasites over time."
Jones is with the pathology and microbiology department at AVC and is the Atlantic regional director of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative. She said scientists believe mange can't be eliminated by treating some animals for the disease.
Jones said they're continuing to research mange on P.E.I., and are looking to get more funding to carry on.
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