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Under the Sidewalk

San Joaquin Kit Fox and pup, Bakersfield

I have been in Bakersfield, California this week, looking for endangered San Joaquin Kit Foxes.  Foxes in the city?  Yes, in one of the most unexpected of situations, these rare foxes are holding their own living in the middle of the city, in some cases better than they’re faring in the surrounding agricultural land. As one biologist told me, kit foxes are better off in an empty lot than a farmer’s field. The lot has good places to den, and access to the varied diet the city can offer : discarded hot dogs, candy…and maybe, on a good day,  the mice that feed on them.

After searching for an active den for several days, I stumbled onto this family at dusk last night, emerging from their den under a cracked city sidewalk.  The mother appeared, followed – to my delight – by two small cubs, playful and curious as ever. I went back again this morning and had a few minutes with them before they went back down into their den to sleep the day away. (Kit foxes are primarily nocturnal).

But the challenges facing these urban foxes became all too clear when I returned again this evening. To my horror, the street where I had seen the foxes was under construction, with workers jack-hammering the pavement only a few yards from the den.  I made sure they were aware of the den’s existence and asked that they try to minimize the disturbance of that part of the street, but after they all left, and darkness fell, I saw no sign of the foxes.  I’ll go back tomorrow and check on them.

The urban foxes of Bakersfield make a dangerous bargain : they get plenty to eat and enjoy the lack of predators. But they also have to contend with road crews, lawn mowers, and a city full of cars. I hope they make it.

Nikon D3, 200-400 f4 lens