Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education
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Monday, September 7, 2009

A Tale of Two Foxes

Early this spring, Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, Inc. (NWRI) received a 4-week-old female fox kit. She was quickly dubbed “Pinball,” for her tendency to bounce around when playing! We feared that Pinball would be raised alone, because at that time, no other rehabilitators in the area had a baby fox kit. But luckily for her, a month later we received a second fox kit, a male. He was about Pinball’s age, but it was immediately apparent that he had a very serious problem. The new kit, named Nova, had severe damage to both of his eyes. Although he did have some peripheral vision, it was clear he could not see directly in front of him. Both of his corneas were badly scratched and scarred, and the prognosis from our veterinarian was grim. We decided to treat Nova medically as best we could and allow him to grow up through the summer with Pinball, so that neither would be raised alone.

After two months of treatment, it became evident that Nova’s sight was getting worse, not better. Although we knew that he would not be releasable since he would never be able to hunt and find prey on his own, he and Pinball had bonded strongly, so we decided to keep them together until Pinball was ready for release. They were moved together into an outdoor wilding cage on a large private property in late June and spent about six more weeks together before it was time for Pinball’s triumphant reintroduction to the wild. Their caretakers removed her from the wilding cage and gave Pinball her freedom on the property, leaving her to wander off and Nova behind in the cage. To our chagrin, Pinball missed Nova so much that she returned to the cage daily to sleep beside Nova against the fence.

We knew then that for the good of both foxes, they would need to be permanently separated. Pinball needed to fully integrate into the wild, and she seemed unwilling to do so while Nova was so close at hand. We were facing a very difficult decision with Nova -- when we have a non-releasable wild animal, by law, and generally in the best interest of the animal, we must humanely euthanize it. But Nova had given so much to us, and to his friend Pinball. He had provided her with constant company throughout the summer while she grew and learned to hunt. His presence assured us that Pinball would not become habituated to humans, which would have ruined her chance at a happy, productive life in the wild. To NWRI’s rehabilitators, it seemed cruel to euthanize an animal that had given so much to us, but we also knew that having been mostly blind for most of his life, Nova didn’t seem overly stressed in captivity.

We sought the advice of Dr. Tanya McIlnay, a board-certified veterinary opthomologist. She confirmed that there was nothing we could do to return Nova’s sight; however, she assured us that with a simple procedure on his left eye, he could live pain-free in captivity.

Because we don’t have a facility at which to house a non-releasable fox year-round, we decided to seek a permanent home for Nova elsewhere. We didn’t take this search lightly. We knew that Nova would only be happy in a large, natural enclosure with other foxes. We were determined that if he was going to stay in captivity for the rest of his life, he would not be stuck in a small cage, and his new caretakers would need to be dedicated to keeping him, healthy and happy, his entire life. After gaining approval from the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, we located the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center, also known as The Wild Animal Sanctuary, in Keenesburg, CO. Only a day’s drive from Omaha, this center is well-known throughout the country as the largest wild carnivore sanctuary – one that is dedicated to allowing otherwise neglected and abused tigers, lions and other large carnivores to live out their lives in large enclosures. It is also dedicated to the education of the public about these majestic animals, a mission after our own hearts.

Now, the real work begins. Nova is scheduled to make his last visit to our veterinarian, Dr. Keith Halsey, on Wednesday, September 9th. He will be fully vaccinated, neutered, microchipped, and have bloodwork and a health certificate issued. He will also have the necessary procedure on his left eye to ensure that he remains comfortable throughout his life in Colorado. On Monday, September 14th, one of our volunteers will drive him to Colorado to his new home.

If you have enjoyed Pinball and Nova's story thus far and would like to help our furry friends, we will happily accept! Although the veterinary services will be discounted, we still need to raise several hundred dollars for the necessary procedures and to transport Nova to Colorado. Please make a donation today, either by PayPal on our website at www.nebraskawildliferehab.org, or by mail to:

PO Box 24122
Omaha, NE 68124

Please stay tuned for blog updates about Nova after his veterinary visit on Wednesday, and about his big day on the 14th when he reaches his new home. Thank you for your support!

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