Unjust? Grey fox captured, killed near UVA
After UVA's recent bout of small mammalian terror, in which two students were bitten and a sweater was swiped, both the university and Charlottesville community can safely say they've seen an animal reined in as officials announced the capture and subsequent euthanization of a fox Wednesday. But was it justice? The capture has some people questioning the actions as rash and cruel, and wondering if it was the right fox–- or merely an innocent animal unjustly handed a death sentence.
"It's a shame to kill this animal to make it look like the authorities are doing something to protect the public," says Crozet nature writer Marlene Condon, who was horrified by the image she saw on NBC 29's Wednesday night report. "We're losing so many animals, we can't afford to keep killing."
Steve Colvin, the trapper hired by UVA to seek out an "aggressive" fox in the University Circle-Lambeth Field area, brought a captured grey fox to the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA early on Wednesday. Despite not showing signs of rabies–- which might include glazed eyes and matted fur, according to Condon–- the fox's fate was almost inevitable, as officials in the State Health Department decided to euthanize the animal to test it for rabies.
"The grey fox they [showed] on Channel 29 did not look rabid to me," Condon insists. "It had clear eyes and was cowering in the cage, obviously terrified."
Although initial reports of the attacks described a red fox as the suspect, local medical authorities worry those reports could have mislabeled the fox's appearance or that the original fox's aggression could have spread to others–- thus taking every precaution with the captured grey fox.
"Unfortunately, we can't test for rabies in live animals," says Thomas Jefferson Health District Director Dr. Lilian Peake, " so they do have to be euthanized to be tested."
With the body sent to Richmond for testing at the Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services, Condon says she's speaking out about what she considers an unnecessary death.
"Wildlife serves a function," says Condon. "You shouldn't be killing them if you don't have to."
Peake insists on the necessity of the euthanization, despite the unknown identity of the fox, as the test results will be crucial in determining an overall make-up of the wildlife in the UVA area. If the grey fox was indeed rabid, she says it would indicate there may be an epidemic amongst other local foxes.
"Unless you see the fox biting someone and you take the fox right at that point, it's hard to say which fox was involved," she explains. "This test will give us more information. If the fox is positive, there might be other rabid animals in the area."
While Condon and Peake have different outlooks on the fate of the grey fox, the main point they both stress is the need for a community better educated on interacting with wildlife. Condon, author of the book The Nature-Friendly Garden, is scheduled to give a talk to the community on October 13 about appropriate ways to interact with the natural world.
"It's important to keep these wild populations around and know how to live with them," Condon insists. Peake agrees.
"We want to caution everybody that if you see a wild animal, don't pet it or feed it regardless of the situation," says Peake. "Appreciate wildlife from a distance."
If the grey fox does test positive for rabies, the UVA community and Health Department will step up their outreach and heighten awareness to students about how to interact with wildlife, according to Peake. Condon hopes the increased understanding will lead to less unnecessary animal bloodshed.
"Were these people bitten because they were doing something towards the animal?" asks Condon. "A lot of people don't realize that you don't approach a wild animal. Any frightened animal will bite you just because its scared."