Mike Thomas/Yukon News file
A fox runs across the street at Main Street and Third Avenue.

A new project seeks to learn more about Whitehorse fox populations

A new project to monitor and improve the understanding of urban foxes living in Whitehorse will begin this year

A new project to monitor and improve the understanding of urban foxes living in Whitehorse will begin this year. The project is a collaboration between the Yukon’s Fish and Wildlife Branch, the Animal Health Unit, and the Conservation Officers Services branch.

Jodie Pongracz, a carnivore biologist for Fish and Wildlife, said over the past couple of decades, “the number of red foxes living in and around Whitehorse has appeared to have increased”.

“Foxes are really well adapted to living in close proximity to people and they have definitely become part of the urban landscape here,” said Pongracz.

“Many of the foxes in Whitehorse are highly habituated to people and they come into close contact and proximity to people and there have been situations where foxes have had altercations with local pets.

“The more we know about that, the better, because there are public safety risks associated with highly habituated urban foxes. They can be carriers of pathogens that can be spread to people and their pets. Foxes are wild animals and they are different than your pets”

The urban fox project has several components and is a multi-year project.

“What it involves is monitoring Whitehorse’s red fox population through den counts, so locating the dens, counting the adults and pups, and monitoring how this changes through the spring,” said Pongracz.

“This will give us insight into the fox numbers in the city and better allow us to better understand their density. That’s the number of foxes per unit area and this (project) will help better understand how that changes over time.”

The public are being asked to report urban fox dens as part of a new collaborative urban fox study. (John Tonin/Yukon News)

Pongracz said other components of the project include monitoring what the foxes eat — whether it is natural food sources or food derived from humans — and continuing the documentation of human fox conflict.

“Then there is an animal health component of this,” said Pongracz. “We want to improve our understanding of pathogens found in the urban foxes. Particularly those that can be transmitted to people or pets or those that could have a significant effect on the fox population.”

Pongracz said the transmission of rabies to humans or pets is always a concern, although the presence of rabies is believed to be low.

“The animal health unit has been testing wild carnivores including foxes since 2012 and that surveyance will continue as well,” said Pongracz.

To help with the project, Pongracz said those involved are looking to the public to help researchers find urban fox dens.

“The public knows a lot more than us so they can definitely help us out there,” said Pongracz. “The area that we are looking at is in and around neighbourhoods. Whether that is green space around a neighbourhood or right in people’s backyards.”

If you know of an urban fox den you can email urbanfox@yukon.ca. If anyone wants to learn more about the project or report a den they can call 867-456-3872.

The goal of the project is to achieve coexistence with foxes and people.

“A peaceful coexistence with the foxes is where they are still utilizing the urban, but they are feeding on natural food sources and denning in natural areas,” said Pongracz.

“(As well) the foxes maintain a healthy timidness of people so they are not habituated to the extent that they are approaching people or children to seek food.”

Contact John Tonin at john.tonin@yukon-news.com

Whitehorse

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