SUNDRE — A fox has a new lease on life after being discovered recently in town dragging behind it a snare trap that had caught a hind leg.
Wayne Stewart and his girlfriend Sandra Burke, who own a weekend property in Sundre’s Riverside RV Village, drove out on Boxing Day when they noticed what at first seemed to be a coyote on Bergen Road in the residential area within town limits.
“We just went out to First Choice Meats, they were closed so we turned to come back into town,” said Stewart during a phone interview.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I seen what looked like a wild animal coming up the trail that’s there,” he said, adding he initially thought maybe it was a coyote.
They quickly realized the animal was a fox, not a coyote, but did not immediately notice it was in distress. Burke suggested snapping a few photos, which was when they observed the fox was dragging a trap line, he said.
Wary of the couple, the fox crossed the road to the eastern snowbank, but did not try to flee right away.
“As my girlfriend said, he was looking at us like, ‘Could you help me? But I don’t trust you!’”
From there, the fox made its way into the bush, where the trap temporarily got snagged.
At about that time, Jenna Vincent, a truck driver from Bergen who was driving past the scene on her way to work after visiting her nearby parents’ place for Christmas, witnessed the couple and decided to pull over to offer assistance.
“I saw two people on the side of the road staring into the bushes, so I thought I’d stop and ask if they’re OK,” said Vincent, who soon realized what was going on.
Initially attempting to contact Fish and Wildlife officers, Vincent said reaching anyone on a holiday wasn’t happening.
But in either a random twist of coincidental happenstance or fate, Vincent said she at that moment recognized Dr. Michael Wilson, who works at Pioneer Veterinary Services, driving back into Sundre along the Bergen Road.
“He’s my personal vet, so it was kind of weird and good timing,” she said, adding Wilson agreed to come back after she called him.
Wilson, who has been with the clinic since the summer of 1999, said he had noticed two vehicles and a few people on the side of the road, but figured they were simply visiting, so initially decided to continue driving home. Shortly afterwards, he received the call from Vincent and agreed to come back and help.
“Somebody saw the fox dragging this trap that was attached to its one hind leg,” he said.
Advising them not to approach the stricken fox since the animal was obviously in pain and might well defensively lash out and bite, he told them to sit tight and keep an eye on it until he returned.
Equipping himself with a dog catcher — a pole used to capture animals with — a muzzle, and tranquilizer, Wilson returned to the scene.
When they proceeded to try and reach the fox, which was in about two feet of snow, the animal attempted to flee under a tree. But luckily, the trap’s anchor got caught up in some branches, he said.
“That was kind of a bonus,” said Stewart.
“Because then, I was able to hold the cable while the vet put a needle to put him to sleep.”
Wilson said he managed to get a hold of the fox and administered a dose of injectable tranquilizer with some anesthetic in it. Once the animal fell sound asleep, they were able to bring the fox out of the bush and remove the trap before transporting the wounded creature to the clinic.
“If the leg was broken, we would have had to decide what to do,” said Wilson.
Fortunately, although the trapped hind foot sustained a bad laceration, the leg itself was not broken, he said.
“So, I bandaged that and gave him antibiotics.”
In the meantime, Vincent had contacted the Medicine River Wildlife Centre, who dispatched someone to fetch the fox, which Wilson had placed in a cage for safety.
“He’s doing fine — he’s eating well. He doesn’t seem to be overly stressed in captivity,” said Carol Kelly, the centre’s executive director.
“They’re such an intelligent creature,” said Kelly.
“He’s not friendly, but he figured out that we’re the ones that bring him the food!”
Once the fox’s wound heals and the weather improves, Kelly said she expects to release the animal on the centre’s property, located northeast of Sundre and west of Spruce View.
“We have just under 500 acres here, and we have nobody around us,” she said.
“We already have some fox that live around on our property. It’s a really good, safer place than where he came from.”
Last year, the centre received 2,300 patients, she said.
“There’s all kinds of situations, from orphaned moose calves to injured robins and everything in between.”
Vincent praised the Medicine River Wildlife Centre’s preservation and awareness raising efforts.
“There’s no one else around (the area) for that stuff,” she said.
When Vincent spoke with The Albertan, she still had the trap, which she wanted to give to fish and wildlife officials.
“I thought they could maybe track it some way, I think there’s some numbers on it. Someone’s not doing this proper,” she said, referring to how the trap was used.
“People are saying there’s a trap line down by the river. But there’s that berm, and people walk their dogs and their kids. That’s like a big fishing hole for Sundre,” she said.
While many people who were responding to a post on social media about the incident expressed concern and caring, there were a few who dismissed the animal as “just a fox,” she said.
“But nothing should die like that,” she said, glad that the story had a happy ending.
Stewart also expressed concerns about how and where the trap was used.
“This is the problem, we don’t know where the snare was, ’cause he might have just dragged it from wherever. But the problem is, it wasn’t fastened properly,” he said, adding traps should also be regularly checked every 24 hours.
“I don’t think in town limits is a registered trap line.”
Calls to local fish and wildlife were not returned by press time.
Kelly said fox tend to have a bad reputation that is founded on misinformation about the clever predator.
“There are people who don’t like fox,” she said.
“But I almost guarantee you that the reasoning behind that is based on misinformation.”
Among those with a distaste for fox are people with free range chickens, which improperly enclosed are bound to draw in predators, she said.
“So, it’s really not the fox that’s the bad guy here. We like to work with people and teach them how to contain their chickens properly, and how to understand the fox,” she said.
Another common misconception about fox is that they kill pets like cats, she said.
“They are not. Fox don’t eat cats,” she said.
The predators do, however, have an important role to play in the ecosystem, including agricultural operations.
“Fox are extremely beneficial around a farm site in that they clean up all kinds of unwanted insects and rodents,” she said.
“I have lots of landowners, including farmers, that work really well with their fox. We like to dispel some of that misinformation, and have people appreciate the fox for what they can do for them.”