Monday, June 9, 2014

Kittens, Not Kits

A few weeks ago, colleagues and I found a very active gray fox den.  We scoped out the area a bit and saw kits coming in and out, along with a healthy looking mother. 

Of course a camera-trap was put up at this den (which is a completely different den than the red fox den that I’ve been posting about in the past few weeks). But, like a lot of camera-trapping and wildlife research, results were not at all as expected.

The camera was checked once last week, and to my surprise, not one single image came up of a gray fox.  Results were only of white-tailed deer, a tufted titmouse, and a raccoon.
It was odd, because by this point, on several occasions, I had seen the mother gray foxwith kits around her, about 15 feet from this den entrance.

The camera angle was moved to another entrance hole in the den network, and we waited another week.  Hopes were still high, as I had realized before that maybe the foxes didn’t use the previous entrance hole anymore.

The next time the camera was checked, there were a few white-tailed deer does walking around, and feral cats.  A lot of feral cats.

I saw the mother cat with her kittens, and eventually another adult cat walked by. 

They’re cute, as are a lot of mammalian babies, but these images could be the proof of an ecological problem that could turn into a nightmare.

Here’s why:  The domestic cat is a non-native, invasive species.  They are not supposed to be naturally found in this area (if you ask just about any naturalist, ecologist, or biologist).  If they are pushing native species out of dens, as in this case of the gray foxes, gray foxes may have a harder time raising their next generation.  This could cause less numbers of gray foxes.  Furthermore, this means that the ecosystem could drastically change in many ways. From food web changes to more diseases, I do see the growing feral cat population as a problem.

I won’t get into too many specific changes that these feral cats could cause to the environment, and I’m definitely not going to “Bob Barker” you into getting cats neutered, but this could be bad for both that


specific park itself, and many surrounding areas.  In fact, it may already be a problem, as I have seen over 63 different individual domestic cats on all my cameras just in the past 8 months alone.


Maybe you’ll enjoy these photos as cute and fuzzy kitten images, but maybe you’ll also see why domestic cats should not be roaming the woodlands of northern Virginia.

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