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2018 Wrap Up

By Nick Hadad

Hello Wild Things!

It has been a busy year here at ROC Animal School! Here’s what we’ve been up to over the last several months.

Farmers Markets:

This year, we worked closely with our friends at Impact Earth and tabled at both the Pittsford and Lakeside Farmers Markets. Each month, we would showcase a different theme regarding local wildlife, typically using a different talking mascot character to front each one.

In June, we talked about Backyard Wildlife with our mascot, Swift the Red Fox as the expert on the subject. It generated a lot of discussion about wildlife found across New York state and some of the issues they face and ways to help them.

In July, it was Ask Howler Wolf month. I suited up as our friendly wolf and would answer any questions the public had about wildlife. If anyone managed to stump me, I would then research their inquiries and answer them through a video post on our Facebook page, as part of our ongoing “Ask Howler Wolf” series. Only two people stumped the wolf!

In August, it was Curious about Coyotes month with Dakota Coyote. It proved to be a perfect time to cover that topic as our local coyote population had grown quite large with numerous sightings popping up in urban areas. There were a lot of questions from passersby and we were very happy to help folks with their concerns.

September was Lend a Wing with Skye the Bald Eagle. The focus here was to cover what species of birds of prey could be found in our area, the issues they faced and the current science behind these birds. There was a lot of buzz around this subject as numerous sightings of black vultures, a bird more commonly found in the southern United States, were being documented across the county and further east.

We rounded out our season at the market by talking about Creatures of the Night, showcasing local nocturnal animals. We debuted our owl character, Oslo, and our marble fox mascot, Thor. Both were big hits!

Programs, Expos and Festivals:

We enjoyed getting out and about this year! We made appearances at both the Mendon Ponds and Irondequoit WinterFests, the East Rochester Public Library, the Eastside Resource Center at the Penfield YMCA, the 2018 Rochester March for Science and Expo, Working Like a Dog event at the Genesee Country Village & Museum, Bird of Prey Days at Braddock Bay, the Rochester Museum and Science Center, various day cares and day schools and many other places.

A PAWSitive Impact:

In October, we started to work more with our friends at Impact Earth. We created some educational programs focused on a zero waste initiative, the impact of pollution on wildlife and society and a stronger focus on school zero waste programs. We employed the use of some of our mascots as well, bringing a “wild animal” to talk first hand about the impact of trash on their daily lives. This has been quite exciting for students and we can’t wait to do more come 2019!

Wildlife and Science:

I have been trying to keep current on scientific studies on wildlife and ecosystems. This is so our program content will remain up to date but also to spread knowledge and awareness of what’s going on in the environment. There have been some new discoveries with wolves regarding genetics, new and rediscovered species and the wolf’s impact on the spread of diseases that harm ungulate species. It has been a very fascinating year!

2019:

The new year is right around the corner! We have a lot of things to look forward to and we will keep all you posted as things develop! Of course, you can always book us for programs and events by contacting us at nickhadad12@gmail.com

Until next time, stay wild!

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Vulpinology Retrospective – Loki is Anything but Low Key

–By Nick Hadad—

Looking Back:

Just about a year ago, we here at Animal School filmed our Vulpinology 101 series, hosted by two of our talking mascots, Swift the Fox and Inola the Arctic Fox. The purpose of the series was to introduce and talk about the six different species of fox in North America and some of the interesting fox facts about the species in general. We filmed a total of eight episodes.

Those six species of fox include:

The Swift Fox

The Arctic Fox

The Kit Fox

The Red Fox

The Gray Fox

The Channel Island Fox

We also discussed the impressive come back for the six different Channel Island fox species in Episode 8, as they were almost driven to extinction by predation by golden eagles that were invasive to the islands, and a devastating outbreak of canine distemper. In fact, these foxes have had the quickest population increase for an endangered species, coming from just fifteen individual animals in some cases to normal levels between the late 1990s and 2016.

From there, we talked about fox fur color mutations and phases in Episode 7. At the time, a photo of a Pink Champagne fox was going viral, and for good reason. It was a beautiful animal! A lot of folks believed it was a rare species but after doing some research, we discovered that foxes with such wild colorations were still technically red foxes and had been bred for decades to get a specific fur color. Sometimes, this was done for the fur trade and other times, more for domestication.

Some Foxy News!

LOKI LOKI

Speaking of domestic foxes, a few months ago, the Wildlife Educators Coalition adopted a Georgian Marble Fox, named Loki. Loki has a number of colors in his fur, ranging from white to tawny, to brown, silver and black, hence the marble description. His domestic ancestry can be traced 60 years back to a farm in Russia, where a lot of the fur mutation projects began.

Loki is adorable! But I was quickly reminded how difficult it is to own a fox. As we say, Loki is a fox that is great at being a fox because that’s what he’s supposed to be, and therefore, he makes a terrible pet!

Pet Fox Considerations:

It’s important to note that if you are interested in adopting a fox, it’s our strong recommendation that you do as much research as you can on the subject. While foxes are canines, they are very different from dogs and have very specific needs. To start off, they have unique health and nutritional needs (for example, their digestive system cannot handle beef). Therefore, their diet needs to be fairly beef free but varied enough to ensure they get the complete nutritional requirements.

Also, since domestic foxes are still very much foxes, they need a lot of room to run and play and require lots of enrichment. You also need to keep your home “fox proof.” That is to say, they will try and succeed at getting into everything you do not want them to. Keeping things out of harm’s way will be a challenge for both you and your fox.

Also, certain types of domestic foxes may not be able to properly handle outdoor temperatures in winter or summer. Arctic foxes may be all right handling trips to play in the snow but might need some help keeping cool in the summer. Fennec foxes may need a lot more attention in the cooler weather.

Is it Legal to have a Fox?

Is it legal in your area to even have a fox? Each state has its own set of rules. In some places, you can adopt a domestic fox but must have proof it was from a breeder and not from the wild. In other areas, it may come down to the legalities of owning a specific type of fox species (i.e., it might be legal to have a marble or fennec fox but not a gray or a pure red one). Some states do not allow you to have a pet fox at all.

Certain states might also have strict regulations on where the fox can come from, so make sure you adhere to any transportation and import laws. At times, it might not be lawful to bring in a fox from out of state or even from another county in the same state.

And lastly, you might require licensing. Loki was indeed bred specifically for domestication but he was obtained with an educational permit for the WEC. This means that he is an animal used for educational purposes and not really as a pet. This type of licensing is required in New York for marble foxes.

Considering Adopting a Fox? Think Twice!

Why? Unlike dogs and cats that have been in domestication for most of human history, foxes have only just started to be bred for this purpose. Again, only between 60 and 100 years (this doesn’t include the 300 years of breeding just for fur as domestication was not the objective of those breeders at the time). Thus, they are still very much wild. And, Loki’s adoptive human, Donna, can share with you countless stories of how he’s destroying her house.

An Animal School Development!

THOR THOR

Despite the chaos that little fox stirs up, he’s an amazing ambassador for wildlife. And, his introduction to the group inspired us to start work on a new project here at Animal School. In early August, we began work on creating a marble fox program, complete with a talking marble fox mascot designed to look exactly like Loki. The idea is that the mascot would open the program and educate folks on life as a fox with some fun interactive demonstrations and what it takes to as a species to undergo domestication. And of course, we’ll talk about the difficulties of foxes as pets. The program will then switch over to the real fox, Loki. It’s no secret that he’ll be the true star of the show!

This program is set to be available for booking in September. For more information, please contact Nick Hadad at nhadad12@yahoo.com

Need More Marble Fox Facts?

We’ll have another blog post up soon focusing on this unique fox. Until then, stay wild!

 

 

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, Arts, biodiversity, ecology, education, educational mascots, Entertainment, environment, foxes, Multimedia, nature, Nonprofit Groups, red fox, Small Business, storrytelling, talking mascots, Uncategorized, vulpines, Western New York Organizations, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education

Animal School Fall Roundup

Housekeeping!

Hey, everyone, and welcome back to the Animal School blog. We have been busy behind the scenes, getting ready to transfer apartments, so Animal School has taken the back burner for a few weeks. Fortunately, we’re almost moved, so our creature features are back in action, and my pun game is back on point.

First off, we had a marvelous time at the 7th Annual Harvest Moon Festival in Walworth yesterday. Swift the Fox was out, teaching skulks of kits — or groups of kids — about gekkering and other lupine and canine noises. We also crafted a display of fox faces that shows people the different species of foxes around North America, as well as an info sheet that highlights details about those species. We had so many enthusiastic art students at our coloring station! It was truly a great time, and we look forward to returning next year.

In case you missed the event and would like share our handouts with your kids or students, we have:

Fox Face_Coloring Handout

Fox Facts

Swift Gekkering

And don’t forget our Vulpinology series on YouTube! Down the line, we do want to get better recording equipment and mics, but we are working with what we have for now.

Other good news: Fun Animal Facts return today! This week’s theme will be Girls Versus Boys, in which we explore the similarities and differences among species in the Animal Kingdom. Next week will be Close, But No Babar (a pun of “close, but no cigar,” with an homage to the cartoon elephant). In there, we will look at animals that have several overlapping features but are not the same. Think cheetahs and leopards, buffaloes and bison, snakes and legless lizards, etc.

Now, on the flip side, we’re going to have to take a hiatus from Turtles Around Town. Scouting out areas and driving around for a new picture every week has taken too much time and money. We considered Photoshopping the turtles into pictures, but we wanted to keep the shots authentic. We may continue with the feature sporadically, but, for now, the upkeep is too great for us to handle.

However, that doesn’t mean we’re calling our operation quits! Quite the opposite. We have a vulture character, Stinky, in the works, and Nick recently acquired a buffalo mask, so our family of furballs is growing! A horse costume and skunk costume are also on deck. Stay connected with us to see the work we’re doing. We’re on WordPress, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

In the meantime, remember that both the Wildlife Educators Coalition and our Animal School program are available for events and programs around Western New York throughout the year. School visits, library programs, community center activities, bookstore readings, scout meetings, birthday parties, senior center enrichment activities — you name it, and we can craft a customized program for your group! WEC has the live animals for demonstrations, and Animal School has the talking animal characters (mascots and puppets). You can also have both the live animals and mascots show up to your event. We offer a sliding price scale, so no one gets denied our unique, hands-on educational experience because of his or his income or location. We are always eager to work with other groups, so join in on our animal antics, already!

For more information about booking us, contact Nick Hadad at nhadad12@yahoo.com for Animal School and Karin Fires at karinfires@gmail.com for the Wildlife Educators Coalition (our parent group with the live animals).

We’ll see you all soon!

 

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, Arts, biodiversity, birds of prey, Carnivore, Channel Island Fox, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, environment, fox subspecies, foxes, gray fox, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, red fox, talking mascots, Uncategorized, Wild Animals, wildlife, wildlife education

Vulpinology 101 Part 8 – The Channel Island Foxes In Depth

As Swift mentioned, we did have plans on doing six videos for the Channel Island Fox species but after a lot of research, we decided to just do one and focus on two very important details.

As we posted back in Part 6, these six species are the descendants of the gray fox, getting a unique chance to evolve perfectly to fit in their island habitats. Each island fox is notably smaller than nearly all of the other mainland foxes, perhaps coming closest to the swift fox by comparison, but weighing between two and six pounds.

For centuries, the various island foxes shared their home with bald eagles and the ecosystem was perfectly balanced. However, as bald eagle populations dwindled due to DDT poisoning, these birds soon vanished from the islands, eventually being replaced by golden eagles.  Being a non-native predator to these islands, the golden eagles preyed upon these small foxes, which caused their populations to crash.

The largest decline took place in the mid-1990s, causing each species to end up on the critically endangered species list. In fact, things became so bad that at one point, San Miguel Island only had fifteen individual foxes left.  Drastic measure had to be taken.

A massive recovery project was launched. Captive breeding and release initiatives for these foxes were seeing major success along with the humane removal and relocating of the invasive golden eagles (and some reintroduction of the once native bald eagles).  Today, these six fox species have made an amazing come back and are now only listed as “of mild concern” on the species list.  It’s incredible how quickly these programs worked in saving these foxes.

And it’s a good thing too, for as Swift pointed out in the video, each of these fox species are keystone species. A keystone species is an animal that is so important to its ecosystem and food web that if it were ever removed, the local environment and even the physical landscape itself can be devastated.  In this case, deer mice populations had begun to rise and plant life was being lost at an alarming rate.  If things had continued along that way, the mice would have destroyed the local vegetation, which in turn would have led to massive erosion problems and a loss of food for other local herbivores.

This type of keystone species loss has already been seen in Yellowstone with the loss of the wolves. Everything in the park was negatively impacted but it took scientists and biologists a long time to put the puzzle pieces together.  Between an explosion in elk populations (which lead to a loss in tree and other plant life) and in the coyote population (which lead to a loss in smaller animals as prey items), the park’s ecosystem was falling apart.  Even the riverbanks and mountains were suffering terrible erosion problems as a result.  And it all changed with the reintroduction of the wolves.  Everything balanced out properly: populations of the animals returned to normal, the plant life returned and even the riverbanks began to take their old shape again.

It really is amazing how these animals, especially these tiny foxes, can be so hugely important.

Stay wild!

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, arctic foxes, biodiversity, Carnivore, ecology, education, educational mascots, endangered species, Entertainment, fox fur mutations, fox fur phases, fox subspecies, foxes, gray fox, kit fox, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, red fox, San Joaquin Kit Fox, Uncategorized, vuplines, wildlife, wildlife education

Vulpinology 101 Part 7 – Red Fox Fur Mutations

Red Fox Fur Mutations:

pinky

(Photo Credit)

As we mentioned in Episode 4, red foxes can come in a large variety of colors.  These changes in color happen when the genes responsible for fur colorations get mixed.

At times, these fur colorations can be switched up in nature, so you can spot red foxes in shades of black, silver, brown, gold and other odd colors. Of course, true red foxes will always have a white tip at the end of their tail.

So, what about that pink fox that Swift mentioned in the video? Yes, she is a red fox, too.  Technically, she is a “pink champagne” fox, and the result of humans intentionally cross breeding foxes with different colored fur until they get a desired fur color. Originally, this started over three centuries ago for the fur trade.  People desired exotic colored fur from familiar animals, and this seemed to be a simple, yet time consuming way to do this.  A general knowledge of genetics helped this industry as well.

Over the last three centuries, several dozen fur mutations were created, some of which are still around today and some that have since gone extinct (or rather, breeding that particular fur mutation has been discontinued). So the pink champagne fox, while somewhat rare, can still be found whereas the Radium Fox has been extinct since the 1940s after its inception in the mid-1930s.

In more recent years, now that the fur industry isn’t as popular as it used to be, breeders have turned to domestication. That’s right, some game farms and breeders offer foxes as pets.  I should point out that in several states, this isn’t legal and those that do allow it, you might be required to have a permit or license to own one and you could be subject to state inspections to ensure the animal is being well cared for, so make sure you read up on your state’s legal guidelines before google searching for pet foxes!  I should also point out that foxes aren’t the best pets in the world, but that’s a subject for a later post.

Anyway, for more information about fox fur phases and mutations, check out Living With Foxes’ page on the subject.  They have a ton of info and awesome photos.

Stay wild!

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, biodiversity, Carnivore, coyotes, ecology, educational mascots, environment, fox subspecies, foxes, gray fox, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, red fox, talking mascots, Uncategorized, vuplines, wildlife, wildlife education

Vulpinology 101 Part 5 – The Gray Fox

gray fox

The Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)

(Photo credit )

Gray foxes live mainly between the north eastern and the southern half of the United States, Mexico, Central America and the northernmost areas of South America. That said, there have been sightings as far north as Connecticut.  These foxes come in between seven and fourteen pounds, close to that of red foxes.

A unique feature of these foxes is their ability to climb trees. While red foxes have been known to hop about on low lying branches of trees, gray foxes can reach the higher limbs of the tree and even make their dens in hollow spaces, sometimes up to thirty feet off the ground.

Like many fox species, these foxes will mate between January and March, giving birth to a litter roughly 52 to 54 days later. The breeding pair are typically monogamous and both parents are heavily involved in raising their young.  As aforementioned, dens can be made in hollow trees but they can also be made in dense brush, under buildings, between rock crevices, or beneath tree stumps.

There are sixteen known subspecies of the gray fox, which can be found across the United States, Mexico, Central America and South America. Many of these have very small ranges, at times only in smaller sections of states/regions.

Again, like all fox species, the gray fox is an omnivore and eats anything from rodents, squirrels, rabbits, insects to various fruits and nuts. This fox can be preyed upon by larger animals, like bears, coyotes and wild cats.

Stay tuned for our next episode of Vulpinology 101!

Stay wild!

Posted in animal facts, animal mascots, animals, arctic foxes, biodiversity, Carnivore, ecology, educational mascots, environment, foxes, foxes tapping the earth's magnetic field, Mammals, nature, nature conservation, Omnivore, Predator, Prey, red fox, talking mascots, Uncategorized, vuplines, wildlife, wildlife education

Vulpinology 101 Part 4 – The Red Fox

red fox

Vulpinology 101 Part 4 – The Red Fox

(Photo credit !!!)

The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

The Red Fox is the most common type of fox in the world and that’s a credit to its amazing ability to adapt to its environment. They can make their home just about anywhere, including in urban areas.  It is native to North America, northern Africa, part of the Middle East, most of Europe and Asia and it was introduced by European settlers to Australia.

This fox varies in size, ranging from the size of a large house cat to the size of a small dog. Red foxes can come in a variety of colors, such as silver, black, tawny, orange, platinum and a countless others.  Regardless of their fur color, red foxes will always have a white tip on their tail, called a flag.  Fur variations are often the result of genetic mutations and sometimes purposeful cross breeding, and we’ll explore this further in Vulpinology Part 7.

Red foxes are monogamous and both parents will raise their litter of kits. They teach them a variety of skills before the young are old enough to go out on their own.  Litter sizes range from two to twelve kits.  Red foxes are typically nocturnal animals, hunting from dusk to dawn but, like many other species of fox, they will become active during the day when they have a litter of kits to feed.

These foxes have a variety of vocalizations and sounds, as I’m sure many of you have guessed since the emergence of the song, “What Does the Fox Say?” These range from trill barks, screams, chirps, whines and gekkering.  They all have specific meanings, ranging from greetings, danger alarms, mating calls, to aggressive “back offs” during courting season and territory protection.

Like all foxes, the red fox is an omnivore, eating a variety of plants and animals. Mice, rabbits, voles, snakes, shrews, fish, insects, birds, squirrels, waterfowl, berries, small larvae-filled beehives, roots and nuts make up its diet.  The fox is a keen hunter, making excellent use of its senses, especially when its prey is lurking under thick snow in the winter.  Its signature hunting move is a leaping pounce, sometimes referred to as a mousing pounce, landing head first into the snow.  Recent studies suggest that, especially in the winter, the red fox taps into the Earth’s magnetic field, using it as a targeting system, by which the fox waits for the sounds of its prey to reach the same point where it feels the tilt in the axis of the magnetic field, and then leaps in a northeasterly direction.  While this is still being studied, it’s currently the strongest theory as to why foes pounce in this one particular direction with nearly a 73% success rate in catching prey versus their success rate when pouncing from any other direction (read more on this exciting theory here!)  The more studying that’s being done on this theory, the sooner we hope to have an easier way to explain how this might work.

Needless to say, red foxes are fascinating. Stay tuned for more fox facts on our next episode of Vulpinology 101.

Stay wild!