Okeeheelee Nature Center assists with Gray Fox release

In September, three Gray Fox kits were released into the wild at Palm Beach County’s Okeeheelee Nature Center in Okeeheelee Park, as part of a joint effort between Palm Beach County and the South Florida Wildlife Center.

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The Gray Fox Kits

Before arriving at Okeeheelee Nature Center (ONC), the three fox kits were taken in as orphans by the South Florida Wildlife Center (SFWC).

Two of the foxes were sisters, arriving at SFWC in May 2015 from Hollywood Hills High School at just a month old and weighing about 300 grams each. They were bright, alert and responsive. The other fox was picked up – also at a month old – from Pelican Harbor Seabird Station in June, having been found at an unknown location in Miami-Dade County. He had a degloving wound on his tail, whereby the skin and fur are essentially torn off the bone. The wound was treated for about a month. All of the foxes were treated for parasites, vaccinated and hydrated.

During their 6-month stay in the rehabilitation facility at SFWC, the foxes learned essential survival skills  in their enclosure and were regularly vaccinated. Human contact was very limited to avoid imprinting, which is a serious problem when wild animals become accustomed to humans and lose their fear of people. Imprinted animals cannot be released into the wild and must spend the rest of their lives in captivity.

The Soft Release

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The fox kits were 7 months old when they arrived at ONC in September 2015. They were released that same month in an area on the nature center’s 90-acre preserve. The release was coordinated by SFWC’s Release Specialist, Shelby Proie, as well as ONC’s Manager, Callie Sharkey.

The “soft release” process involved putting a temporary enclosure in the area where the fox kits were located, and feeding them for two to three days. During this time, the kits became accustomed to their new surroundings, allowing them to easily establish a territory soon after the doors open.

Wildlife trap cameras were put up inside the enclosure, as well as on a nearby tree in order to track the fox kits’ activities. When the doors opened, the foxes left after about 15 minutes. One fox returned three days later to observe the space, but didn’t stay. Volunteers and staff have seen tracks in the area, but not the actual foxes – which is a very good sign of their successful transition into the wild.

A release of this kind was a first for Okeeheelee Nature Center. Okeeheelee’s pine flatwoods habitat made it an ideal location for the fox release, since it’s reasonably protected and there’s plenty of food for the foxes to hunt and forage to survive on their own.

Okeeheelee Nature Center is owned and operated by the Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation Department and features 2.5 miles of trails winding through 90 acres of pine flatwoods and wetlands. Highlights of the center include hands-on exhibits, animal encounters, and more. Guests can marvel at birds of prey, touch a live snake or prowl for owls during one of the many programs scheduled throughout the year for families, youth and adults.

This was a pre-approved and joint effort by the South Florida Wildlife Care Center, which is affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States. Palm Beach County’s three nature centers DO NOT serve as rehabilitation centers, nor can they accept injured or stray animals on site. Please contact the South Florida Wildlife Care Center directly [954-524-4302] if you find an injured or stray animal.

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