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‘Leave them alone’: Wildlife expert encourages La Jolla residents to think outside the fox

Foxes like this one, seen in La Jolla on June 21, have prompted social-media discussions about their behavior.
Foxes like this one, seen in La Jolla on June 21, have prompted social-media discussions about their behavior. Though this fox looks gray, it’s likely a young red fox with the red color just starting to show, according to Jim McCaughan, a state-licensed wildlife trapper.
(Courtesy of Ursula Granirer)

La Jolla residents have spotted some not so sly foxes in and around their yards recently, with some people taking to social media to post photos and videos of the creatures, both solo and in groups called skulks.

The posts and observations have prompted some to wonder whether foxes can be harmful to humans and their pets.

But Jim McCaughan, a state-licensed wildlife trapper, told the La Jolla Light, “They’re not dangerous.”

McCaughan, who has run All Wild Animal Control and Rescue in San Diego and surrounding counties since 1997, said foxes “aren’t likely to take small pets, cats or dogs.”

A San Diego Humane Society resource page on foxes also states they will not harm humans or pets.

The Humane Society page says red and gray foxes are native to the San Diego area, though McCaughan said it’s the red variety that local residents have been seeing. Gray foxes “are more rare and more in the higher elevations in the county.”

A June 22 social-media post that garnered about 100 comments showed a skulk of fox kits (youngsters) playing in a La Jolla family’s backyard, jumping in and out of bushes and sitting on lawn furniture.

The post was taken down June 25 and the homeowners declined to discuss the fox visit out of concern for privacy.

McCaughan, who spoke to the resident who originated the post, said the fox family’s behavior is “quite normal.” He said he encouraged the resident to “look for the parents; they usually sit up high somewhere on a tree or somebody’s rooftop. They climb very well.”

La Jolla resident Maureen Martin said she and her neighbor Ursula Granirer also have seen foxes on their patios. “We have heard of and witnessed no harm at all by these creatures,” Martin said.

McCaughan said foxes are “very common” in La Jolla. “They’re no different than possums or raccoons, [but] you don’t see them that often. They’re very elusive.”

“What gives them away,” he said, are the fox kits, which “come out and play 24/7. … If you see them out during the daytime, it doesn’t mean they’re rabid or distempered.”

The region’s temperate weather means there isn’t really a season for kit birthing. Foxes “reproduce all year-round,” McCaughan said.

A fox is seen via a La Jolla resident's security camera this month.
A fox is seen via a La Jolla resident’s security camera this month.
(Courtesy of Ursula Granirer)

And what does the fox say? “They make all kinds of different noises for different reasons,” McCaughan said. “They do bark.”

While foxes pose no threat to humans, “they are likely to come into your house through kitty doors and doggy doors to take the pet food,” he said. He encouraged people to secure cat and dog doors to prevent foxes from getting in their houses.

He cautioned that it’s illegal to feed the foxes. “It’s not so much a cruel thing; they have to learn how to fend for themselves,” he said.

Foxes feed primarily on rodents, snakes and garden bugs, McCaughan said. “They’re good to have.”

A skulk of foxes probably will disappear after a few months once the kits are independent.

“Just enjoy watching them,” McCaughan said.

For those who would like to discourage fox visits, McCaughan said “it’s illegal to put poison out. You’re not even allowed to put poison out in the open for rats.”

Foxes mate for life, McCaughan said, with mother and father fox taking turns hunting for food and water. State law prohibits trappers from separating fox parents; often trappers will have to capture the pups.

“You can look online for natural alternatives” to repel foxes and other animals, he said. “There’s lots of natural herbs and things that can be used.”

“I’m going to give away the biggest secret ever,” McCaughan added. “Adult male urine is the most effective deterrent against any predatory animal. They are scared to death of us male humans, as they should well be.”

He said his most important advice, however, is to “leave them alone.” ◆