Foxes, Badgers and snipers


A male red fox peers over his shoulder while standing, trapped, among dry marsh grasses

A young adult fox is pictured before being released from a cable restraint on campus near the Lakeshore Nature Preserve at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as part of a research effort to study the behavior of growing fox and coyote populations in the city of Madison during a winter morning on Jan. 23, 2015. The research, led by David Drake, associate professor of forest and wildlife ecology, involves setting fox and coyote restraints, checking them twice a day, recording the animals’ medical information and attaching radio collars to allow future monitoring. //Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison

“I could never shoot a badger.”

That’s a quote from a sniper named Phil, in a recent story by the New York Times.

And thank goodness. I hear we have a fondness for badgers ’round these parts.

Trouble is, we also have a fondness for foxes, and Phil – who withheld his last name – has been quietly using his shooting skills to take out foxes in the urban wilds of London.

You see, in London, the urban fox is not such the rarity as it is here. Rumors have it there are more foxes in the city-across-the-pond than there are double-decker buses (I’m personally not quite sure how to interpret the significance of that, but I get the point). An estimated 10,000 roam the city, and from the sounds of things, they occasionally wreak havoc.

The New York Times references 2013’s “finger incident,” recalls the case of a headless garden guinea pig, mauled cats and dogs, punctured pools and an 8-year-old too afraid to venture into her backyard garden.

It’s true – though we love the fox family that moved into the UW-Madison neighborhood last year, inspiring everyone from students to faculty to physical plant workers (check out this Tumblr page dedicated to them) – these majestic animals can present a nuisance to us humans, who have done our best to dominate the landscape.

This is in large part why forest and wildlife ecology professor David Drake is hoping to learn more about the urban foxes and coyotes with whom we share our world, by tracking their movements throughout Madison and better understanding the dynamics of our mutual relationships. While we have nothing but love in our hearts and amazement in our eyes for these animals right now, Drake hopes to be proactive in heading off potential future conflicts, to avoid trouble down the road.

After all, we could never shoot a Badger.

Researchers attach a radio collar to a sedated red fox

From left, graduate student Marcus Mueller prepares a radio collar as Michael Maroney, a veterinarian with the Research Animal Resources Center, monitors a sedated-fox caught on campus near the Lakeshore Nature Preserve at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as part of a research effort to study the behavior of growing fox and coyote populations in the city of Madison during a winter morning on Jan. 23, 2015. The research, led by David Drake, associate professor of forest and wildlife ecology, involves setting fox and coyote restraints, checking them twice a day, recording the animals’ medical information and attaching radio collars to allow future monitoring. //Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison

If you’d like to follow along with the progress of the research here at UW-Madison, check out the UW Urban Canid Project Facebook page, follow @uwcanidproject on Twitter, or, go out and join in on the action by emailing the researchers at uwurbancanidproject@gmail.com.