A family of foxes that has captivated Toronto residents in recent weeks has now done the same to the sophisticated readers of the New York Times.
The mother (or vixen) red fox probably took up residence underneath a boardwalk in the tony Beaches neighbourhood east of the city's downtown in late March or early April.
The boardwalk parallels Lake Ontario's waterfront and runs alongside several beaches, including popular Woodbine Beach, where the opportunistic vixen chose to raise her four cubs (kits).
Although the boardwalk had been open (with social-distancing for walkers) during the current coronavirus pandemic, the beach's parking lots were closed in order to reduce traffic, and the lessened human presence probably encouraged the choice of den site for the pregnant carnivore. (Foxes and coyotes are sometimes eeen in the area, but usually not in such a high-traffic area.)
As soon as the young red foxes started to gambol outside the den during daylight hours, the news spread quickly, with social media hosting dozens of posts and pictures that soon attracted crowds to the boardwalk, seeking a glimpse of the now famous creatures or a photo opportunity.
After reports of people hand-feeding the kits became known, city officials erected a barricade around the den site and warned residents and visitors not to feed or disturb the family.
The city also advised residents that stopping to gawk was making it diffucult to practise social distancing, and it reminded dog owners to keep their pets leashed.
Wildlife authorities plan to relocate the family elsewhere in or near the city when the kits are old enough to be safely moved.
Meanwhile, the flurry of media activity caught the eye of New York Times staffer Catherine Porter, who wrote a story, published yesterday (May 18), headlined: "Toronto was obeying social distance rules. Then came adorable baby foxes". A headline on another platform read: "Toronto fox family transfixes city under lockdown".
Within a day of publication, the fox story had jumped to number three on the "most emailed" list of the Times' trending page on its website. (The New York Times, founded in 1851, is known as the U.S.'s "national paper of record", is third in the country in terms of circulation [as of July 2019]. and has won 130 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other publication.)
Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) are the world's largest and most widespread species of fox, with abundant numbers throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including large populations in North America, Europe, and Asia, as well as parts of North Africa and Australia (where it was introduced).
The long-tailed, adaptable, and agile mammals can reach a weight of about 30 pounds, thrive in the vicinity of humans, and are often seen in and around cities with ravines, large parks, and streams or lakefronts.
Although foxes were once feared in the Toronto area as potential carriers of rabies—a disease that is almost always fatal if left untreated in infected humans—a vaccination program started in 1989 has proven successful, with only one case of fox-strain rabies detected in southern Ontario since, in 2012.
Skunks and raccoons have also been targeted with the vaccine that is added to strategically distributed baits. Bats are another common carrier of the disease.
Foxes (mostly silver foxes) are also one of the most important animals farmed and trapped by the fur industry, a controversial enterprise worth approximately $1 billion a year in Canada and $40 billion annually worldwide, according to industry-association figures. Other animals farmed for their fur are mink and, to a lesser extent, chinchillas. Farmed animals contribute about three-quarters of the pelts produced annually by the Canadian industry.