Utilizing a newly designed enclosure to study the behaviour and welfare of juvenile red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) within a wildlife rehabilitation centre
Creating enclosures in wildlife rehabilitation centres contributes to a large fraction of the success of a wildlife rehabilitator. The standards given by the National Wildlife Rehabilitation Association (NWRA) in enclosure design for red foxes (1.2m x 1.2m x 2.4m) are too small to truly benefit these animals once released. In 2017, a 4.57m x 3.05m x 2.44m enclosure was designed and built to exceed the 2012 NWRA standards for housing of juvenile red foxes. Between 2017 and 2018, behaviour and welfare were tested through observational ethograms and compared amongst 2 separate groups of foxes. Frequency of behaviours were compared between both years and overall behavioural development differed. Even though as adults red foxes are quite solitary, results indicated as juveniles, living in a socialized group encouraged a more harmonized behavioural development. The frequencies were consistent, with many passive behaviours occurring (lying down, hiding). Feeding time brought about a social hierarchy and competition, encouraging faster natural development. When living in a singular environment, all natural behaviours developed within the same timeframe as previous. However, fewer passive activities were observed and instead, behaviours were more active (running, walking, playing). Feeding time exhibited less social competition and an even keel distribution of behaviour occurred. Enclosure design minimized stereotypical behaviours (pacing, panting) and encouraged natural development of behaviours overall prior to release. The analysis suggests that further extensive research should be conducted in relation to enclosure design and post-release tracking studies need to be performed to view the successfulness of these animals once released back into the wild.