I had found the den of a family of red foxes and was going early each morning to take pictures of the mother and her young kits. The kits were five or six weeks old, and were at that curious, exploring stage. Their life at that point pretty much consisted of eat, sleep, and play.
The father did not seem to be around, so the vixen had a lot of work to keep her four kits fed and safe. She was not stupid. She soon figured out that she could make use of me. She had to spend several hours each day off in the woods hunting in order to keep the little ones fed, which meant that without a father around, she would have to leave them alone and subject to being found by other predators.
At this age they would not stay in the den all day, so she realized she could leave them with me. She would literally go and get the youngsters from the den and bring them to where I was. At first the kits would not come anywhere near me, because they had already been taught, or had a natural instinct to be wary of people. She sometimes had to go back to the den three times to coax them to come out and come over near to where I was.
When she finally got them all there, she would leave them and go off to do her hunting. She knew that with a human in the area, no other predators would come around to harm her little ones. Sly like a fox! I made sure to stay as concealed as possible so as to not influence the behavior of the little ones.
Then one day the strangest thing happened. It had been cool in the morning so I had been wearing a sweater. As the sun came out and the morning heated up I had taken the sweater off and thrown it on the ground and continued filming. A little while later, the mother went to my sweater and laid down on it. She started rolling around on it and vigorously mouthing and chewing on it. She got completely absorbed in what she was doing and spent several minutes there intimately interacting with my sweater. That is certainly going to need a good washing before I can wear it again, I thought.
It took me a while to figure out what this was about. She was putting her scent onto my sweater and getting my scent off the sweater onto her. That would make it easier for her to have the kits accept me. I took it that I was being accepted into the family. What a special time I got to spend with them!
Posted September 16, 2019
Dave Ellis is a wildlife photographer in the Omemee-area of Ontario, Canada. See more of Dave's photographs at www.flickr.com/photos/ourlocalwildlife/ This story was previously published in MyKawartha.com.