So far I have spent a month with a wonderful charity called The Fox Project based in Kent, England. Before visiting England I had never seen a fox before, and it has been utterly delightful and completely magnificent working with this native predator.
Southeast England is currently experiencing an unusually hot, dry summer. Because of this the Project is particularly busy rushing out for rescues involving collapsed, dehydrated and starving animals. Much of a fox’s diet in the wild is made up of smaller animals and insects such as worms, birds and rodents. When the ground is dry and hard, worms are few and far between on the earth’s surface and it becomes more difficult for many animals to find food as well as water. Foxes are just one of the animals suffering, and at the moment there is a high volume of foxes being found injured or ill; they simply aren’t strong enough to sustain themselves.
Nicholas is one little guy who we thankfully rescued before it was too late. As well as being very hungry and thirsty Nicholas also had severe mange – one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen, in fact. Sarcoptic mange is caused by the Sarcoptic scabiei mite, a parasite that burrows into the skin and causes intense irritation. The fox’s skin becomes incredibly itchy, and an infected animal will scratch itself raw. Hair follicles are damaged by the mites, and hair loss is a common symptom of mange as well as a crust over the skin that resembles dry mud or white/yellow/brown scabs. Mange also often causes the eyes to become gunky/crusty, and in time they will seal over as the mange worsens. Because of these symptoms we class mange as a fatal disease if left untreated; the fox’s immune system is weakened, lesions from scratching may become infected, once the eyes close over the animal is unable to find food, water or defend themselves. However, mange is surprisingly easy to treat if caught early enough.
Luckily for little Nicholas we did catch him early enough. A few weeks ago we were contacted by a member of the public who had seen a poorly fox visiting his garden. He was worried about the little creature, and asked us for some help. We supplied the gentleman with a cage trap, and on the 24th of July he called us to let us know that the fox had been trapped.
Any time a fox is caught in one of our cage traps we treat it as an emergency. The cage traps are large enough for an adult fox to walk quite a few paces and stand up fully, but foxes are naturally adverse to being confined in areas where there is no escape route. Trapped foxes usually set to working on an escape, which involves them trying to dig or bite their way out of the cage. Of course, the thick metal wires of the trap do not allow escape, and foxes can severely damage themselves if left for too long trying to get out of a cage trap. We carefully explain to anyone with a cage trap in their possession that a fox can break its jaw if left in there for too long. Thus, as soon as they know a fox has been caught, they call us and we rush over.
Hence, over to this newly-trapped fox we rushed. What we found in the trap could hardly be recognised as a fox; tiny, hairless, crusty and brown, it was a wonder that he was still mobile. The lovely gentleman who caught him was so worried! We assured him that we would do everything we could, but that the disease had progressed quite far.
Back at the hospital unit in Tunbridge Wells we carefully lifted Nicholas up onto our treatment table to have a proper look at him. He had a bit of hair on his face, legs and tail, but other than that he was bald. There was a nasty crust covering the top of his back and his ears. His eyes were very gunky, and you could tell that it was a struggle for him to keep them open. We gave him antibiotics, an anti-mange injection, worming treatment, eye ointment and also applied oil to the crusts on his body, ears and face. Rubbing oil into the scabby crusts helps to soften them and encourages them to fall off without damaging the skin underneath.
Nicholas spent the next few days in our hospital unit recovering. We gave him daily antibiotics, oil treatments, eye ointment and fed him up with lots of nutritious, tasty food. The scabs slowly began to fall off his body and ears, and pink skin showed underneath. By the third day, however, we were worried. Nicholas was so very flat; hardly stirring when we handled him, hardly moving himself at all. Since coming into our care we had noticed that he had an occasional deep, gurgly cough – most likely severe lungworm. We were all rooting for him, but we were concerned that we had rescued him too late.
But! Nicholas persevered. By the seventh day of hospitlisation he was a LOT perkier. In fact, he was one of our feistiest patients! His cute little displeased growl was a good sign that he was feeling strong enough to defend himself. His mange treatment lasted two weeks, by the end of which his eyes were fully open, his ears were no longer weighed down with heavy scabs, soft fuzz was growing back across his body and his cough was completely gone. He had rested very patiently in our hospital ward, and now it was time to let him go back home.
On the 7th of August, exactly two weeks after his rescue, we returned Nicholas to the garden he had been trapped in. His human friend was amazed at the difference he could see in Nicholas, and it was lovely to have him there to experience the little fox’s release. It is always so rewarding to see the foxes go back out into the world once they are all better. Nicholas was certainly ready to go; as soon as we placed the cage down on the ground in the garden he began scratching at the floor. We lifted the hatch and away he went, darting straight into a bush and gamboling down to the end of the garden.
At the moment, most days at The Fox Project seem to involve rescuing animals that are only able to have their suffering ended. Being able to watch Nicholas from the moment of his rescue, through his uncertain recovery to the point of his release was so fulfilling. It is really wonderful knowing that he is completely treated of his mange, lungworm, and has been given a brilliant start to his second chance at life thanks to his local human guardian and The Fox Project.
Well done, Nicholas; you made it!