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Friday, Jul 10 2009 07:23 PM

Kit fox's plight highlights danger of nets

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    By Casey Christie

    Casey Christie / The Californian Linda Sallee helped rescue the injured San Joaquin Kit Fox after it was found with a broken left hind lege at Independence Elementary School Thursday. The animal had his leg amputated Friday at San Joaquin Veterinary Hospital on Allen Road by owner and DVM, Thomas Willis. The endangered animal is in good shape and will be eventually be living at CALM after it is ready and healthy enough to be transported.

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BY CHRISTINE BEDELL, Californian staff writer cbedell@bakersfield.com

When Linda Sallee saw the poor kit fox tangled up in an Independence School volleyball net, hanging by her neck, she just had to act.

Though school workers advised her not to touch the endangered critter, Sallee helped free her, shield her from the hot sun and calm her until wildlife officials arrived.

Related Info

HELP OUT THE KIT FOXES

To prevent other such incidences and avoid problems with kit foxes generally:

• Never feed a kit fox, or any other wildlife. Keep pet food indoors.

• Never attempt to touch or handle a kit fox as they likely will bite in self-defense.

• Nets at schools and recreational facilities such as playgrounds and parks should be taken down when not in use.

• Nets should be stored safely and furled, particularly at night when kit foxes are active.

Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Concerned a vet would have to euthanize the animal, who had a badly broken leg, Sallee and her sister even offered to pay to have the animal treated instead.

“I guess I bonded with her while sitting with her,” Sallee said Friday, the day after the ordeal. “I don’t think she bonded with me, but I bonded with her.”

The story couldn’t have had a happier ending.

On Friday morning, the so-far-unnamed kit fox had her left hind leg amputated by veterinarian Thomas J. Willis at San Joaquin Veterinary Hospital, where she’d arrived lethargic and docile, her bone dangling by skin.

She will live out the rest of her days with what now are four other kit foxes — two of them also three-legged — at the California Living Museum in northeast Bakersfield.

She’s estimated to be less than a year old and listed at just under 4 pounds. Eventually she’ll get a name and be publicly exhibited.

“She’s got a long recovery ahead of her but we’ve been successful treating these sorts of injuries in the past,” said Don Richardson, CALM’s curator of animals.

Sadly, there have been many such injuries — and wildlife officials hope the public will help avoid more.

Just this year there have been six Bakersfield incidents of kit foxes getting caught up in nets, with two pups dying, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It’s a big uptick, attributed to population growth and related increasing run-ins between people and animals.

Before 2009 there were 11 known entanglements here, resulting in seven deaths, the agency said.

Soccer, volleyball and baseball batting cage nets were the most common types involved.

Richardson pleaded with people to dismantle nets, not only because kit foxes are endangered but because CALM is having a tough time keeping up with the cost of animal rehabilitations.

It does 400 to 500 rehabs a year, he said.

“We’re asking sports groups, anyone who uses nets in the process of recreation, to remember (to take them down) when they’re through with them,” Richardson said.

At Independence, the volleyball net had been lowered but not removed, he said.

Richardson also urged the public to help CALM financially as Sallee and her sister, Mona Wilson, did. Each chipped in $250 to help cover the approximately $1,200 vet bill associated with Friday’s kit fox surgery.

Really precise numbers don’t exist but there are an estimated 200 to 400 kit foxes around Bakersfield, said Brian Cypher, a research ecologist at the Endangered Species Recovery Program, which is affiliated with Cal State Stanislaus.

How many are left in the wild generally isn’t known because there’s been no funding for a good study, he said.

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