BY LAURA DOUGLASS || Staff Writer
Trail cameras capture flashes of Trish Parker’s quarry and she takes careful note. A volunteer working in partnership with Carolina Wildlife Conservation Center (CWCC), she’s looking for telltale signs of mange in red foxes.
Mange is caused by microscopic mites that burrow into skin to lay their eggs. Animals can develop skin irritation and hair loss: severe infestations can result in secondary infections, lethargy and a slow death by starvation.
Parker, who lives in Pinehurst, got involved in the CWCC’s Mangy Fox program this summer after spotting a sickly red fox in her own yard.
“A lot of time people see a (wild) animal and they can tell it is sick, but they don’t know what is wrong with it,” Parker said. “The fox in my yard was just as skinny as can be. It was 100 degrees and she was laying in the sun because she couldn’t regulate her body temperature.”
People may mistake an animal that is sick with mange with an animal that is rabid; however, the symptoms are decidedly different. A rabid animal may behave unnaturally tame or aggressively, it may walk in circles or stagger, show partial paralysis or self-mutilation.
Red foxes with mange may seek refuge under decks or be spotted during the day in sandy areas, where they may find relief from the itching. They may have patches of fur missing and, in severe cases, a thick crust will form on the surface of their skin and around their eyes, making it difficult for them to see.
Parker recognized the fox in her yard had mange and said she couldn’t sit idly by and watch the animal suffer. She made a few phone calls to local wildlife rehabilitators before being directed to the CWCC.
“I knew to feed her dog food, but not what to do about the mange,” Parker says of the fox she’s since named Maggie. “She was a mess. Her energy was really low because she wasn’t eating.”
Officials with the CWCC’s Mangy Fox program told Parker she would first have to monitor and document the fox to prove she was eating, since the two medications used to treat the condition must be taken with food. Parker ordered a trail camera to track Maggie’s progress as she fed and medicated her back to wellness.
With six weeks of treatment, the transformation was incredible.
Inspired, Parker has continued her efforts. She now regularly visits five feeding sites in Pinehurst to monitor and medicate infected red foxes. She credits Pinehurst Country Club staff with their assistance in monitoring some of these sites and Moore Humane Society for providing dog food to assist these efforts.
The red fox, named for its reddish or orangish coloration, was first brought to North Carolina from Europe by hunters during colonial times. Adult foxes are about the size of a small dog and will eat mice, voles and rabbits, plus insects, birds, eggs, fruits and berries, and may scavenge for carrion or garbage.
According to the CWCC, once mange hits a red fox population, their numbers can decrease by 95 percent in just two years. And after a severe outbreak of mange, it may take 15-20 years for a red fox population to recover.
The most common type of mange is sarcoptic mange, also called canine scabies. Interestingly, gray foxes have a natural immunity.
Sarah Van de Berg, a wildlife health biologist with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, said that severe infections of mange are generally seen in individual animals that are already ill or injured.
“The mites that cause mange are endemic to the South. These are something that foxes have had and evolved with for a very long time,” says Van de Berg, noting mange typically has more impact on an individual basis, rather than a population, in her experience.
Parker says watching these animals suffer from a treatable disease is well worth the effort, and hopes others will volunteer with the Mangy Fox Program. In particular, she’s received a number of calls for assistance from people in the West End and Seven Lakes area.
“I am very passionate about helping these animals. I want people to know these foxes are not dangerous, they are just sick. (Left untreated) they can slowly starve to death over several months. It is very sad, but it is a curable thing. We say it takes a village, well it is going to take ‘our village’ to save these foxes from being wiped out.”
For more information, visit carolinaconservation.org or if you know of a fox with mange, leave a voicemail on the Mangy Fox Hotline at (980) 389-1133.
Contact Laura Douglass at (910) 693-2475 or firstname.lastname@example.org.