Wildlife halts attempts to relocate foxes

·7 min read

PORT AUX BASQUES — The issue of residents feeding foxes within town limits has been a pressing issue over the past couple of weeks.

As a result, the Department of Forestry and Wildlife has visited the area multiple times in an effort to lure the foxes into cages so that they can be transported back to their natural habitat and away from populated areas, but these attempts have been unsuccessful due to overfeeding by residents, and Wildlife then explored different measures to round them up.

On Sept. 2, the Town of Port Aux Basques posted an update that stated that previous attempts to retrieve the foxes had been unsuccessful, and a local trapper would be placing leg traps in various locations along Hardy’s Arterial to hopefully bring them in.

This message caused quite a stir on social media, with many claiming the leg traps to be ‘barbaric’ and ‘inhumane’. Some individuals even stated they would report the Town for animal cruelty, despite the fact that the Town was not responsible.

Mayor Brian Button re-iterated that the post itself was merely an update from the Dept of Forestry and Wildlife, and the Town has absolutely no involvement in the retrieval of these animals. They were simply providing an update to residents, especially those with small animals, to let them know this would be happening in the area.

“The Town, in no way, shape or form, are the people involved in it. We turned this over to the professionals. We’re not involved, we don’t have our staff out in any way doing anything involved with the wildlife. We’re just the messenger.”

Button expressed how frustrating it is for him to hear the Town workers getting the brunt of the blame for operations they are not involved in, and that has been the case in the past as well.

“It seems like they are the easiest target for people,” said Button. “I do get upset and I do try to defend them because they are just trying to do their job and their names were dragged through this, for example, a million times and they had nothing to do with it.”

Button added that the only thing he has commented himself is that the Town encourages people to stop feeding the foxes, not just for the safety of residents, but the animals as well.

“The foxes are in the vicinity of the elementary school and daycare centre. The foxes have been seen in the playground areas, in the daycare entrances. We have heard reports on all of it,” said Button. “These animals are used to being fed now because people have been feeding them, so it is a concern that they may come up to a child who may try to feed them and, God forbid, something happens.”

Button said he has seen comments on social media where people express that they’ve never seen a fox eat a toddler, but he said comments like that are completely missing the point.

“We’re not out saying a fox is going to eat a toddler. We are saying there is a potential that it could bite a toddler or a young child. The animal is used to us feeding them, and if there are children in those areas and they have food, they may approach the child for the food. So that is the concern of why we need to move these animals, get them moved out of the residential areas, out of the school areas, and get them to a safe environment of their own.”

The Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture made the following statement in response to media inquiries:

“Leg hold traps are designed to capture the target animal by the leg and restrain it until a trapper dispatches the animal. Leg hold traps (categorized as Restraining Traps) provide the added advantage over Killing Traps (intended to kill the animal on contact) in that non-target animals may be released. In all trapping practices, trappers are required by law to check restraining traps (leg holds included) daily.

“Leg hold traps are designed (padded, laminated or offset) to meet international humane trapping standards established by the International Agreement on Humane Trapping Standards. These standards apply to all trapping activities in Canada, including Newfoundland and Labrador. Individuals must complete a Trapper Education Course before they are permitted to use any trapping device, including leg holds. A portion of this training program includes discussions around ethics and humane treatment of wildlife.

“These traps have the capacity to capture and restrain these animals humanely and safely. This allows officers/ trappers to contain and release them back into their natural environment without harm or injury.

“Leg hold restraining traps set in the manner prescribed by Humane Trapping Standards and checked daily are considered effective and humane trapping practices that minimize any hardship to the animal.

“The animals are in town limits and approaching people because residents are providing the food source, virtually hand fed, which leaves the animals desensitized to humans, and correspondingly programs them to gravitate towards people as opposed to naturally being cautious/avoiding. Some of these foxes are now building dens within close proximity to the housing/town limits and raising young, as the food source is now seen as normal. Conservation Officers’ efforts to relocate them are then futile due to the fact that the animal doesn’t need to attend and pressure themselves by entering a confined live trap, when food is being provided in abundance elsewhere.

“The Provincial Government has continued to encourage the public NOT to feed wildlife. Wildlife that is fed and become habituated to human activity often become a public safety or a nuisance issue that has to be addressed. Often these animals have to be euthanized. It is also important to note that wild animals may carry diseases that can be transmitted and may pose serious health and safety concerns to humans or pets.”

Despite the department's original intentions, the decision was made to forego the use of further means, including leg traps, to retrieve the foxes. On Wednesday, Sept. 14, Port and Basques and Fogo Island residents were singled out on NTV news as Wildlife officials once again re-iterated with provincial residents not to feed wild foxes. On Thursday, Sept. 15, Mayor Button provided an update from Wildlife.

"They've exhausted all of what they could possibly do to try and retrieve them," said Button. "The biggest problem from their conversations with us, is human contact. The foxes have been made domestic They are no different now than a dog. They are relying on people to feed them and they are being fed very well at times."

It remains to be seen if residents will continue feeding them during the winter. Button said the trapper hired by wildlife refused because of the harassment on social media.

"They've decided they aren't going to do it, so that's gone. Now, the biggest thing we want to do – there's been a public notice put out from government – we are once again pleading with people to not feed them," explained Button. "The problem now could go away on its own, but it will only go away on its own if people stop feeding them. If you are one of those people out advocating not to trap, you need to be the one out advocating to people not to feed them so they can naturally move out of the area on their own and go back to an environment where they can fend for themselves."

Button is concerned that the longer the foxes remain in the area, the higher the probability that something bad will happen.

"We had reports – and it was confirmed - that a bunch of kids up in that area had a fox in an area, pinned in, trying to get videos of him. Now can you imagine if you are a wild animal and six or seven people are around you? You can't do those type of things. Nothing happened thankfully. Maybe nothing will happen, but these animals could pick up any type of disease. They could be eating dead birds that have been showing up on beaches and become carriers. They need to go on and we need to do our part to try and help them along. Being kind to them would be not feeding them."

Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News