by William C. Leikam
President, CEO & Co-founder, Urban Wildlife Research Project

Special Notice: UWRP is seeking a new Board member who will be our Communications Manager/ Fundraiser!

The UWRP Board is seeking a volunteer to help with both the big ideas of organizational planning as well as the hands-on duties of Board membership in a Communications Manager/ Fundraiser role.

A new Board member should have a working knowledge of the principles of ecology and wildlife conservation, and a willingness to actively participate at our Board meetings on the second Saturday morning of each month. In addition, the Communications Manager will need to spend about 5 to 7 hours per month on fundraising and communications tasks. Since our meetings are held via Zoom, board members do not need to live locally.

If you’re passionate about wildlife and can spare a few hours per month, please consider contacting our Board Chair, Jessica Hatfield at [email protected] for more information.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Gray Fox Big Eyes is Dead

The instant I saw her on that video file at camera #14, I knew what had happened and what would happen shortly thereafter. The following, polished up a little, is copied from the daily Gray Fox Log. This is what sequentially transpired:

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

At camera #14, gray fox female Big Eyes makes four final appearances. Rain came down rather heavily. She hardly moved, her head drooped, she slowly walked around right where her mate Laimos had struggled before he died. She just slogged along. When she stopped, her mind and her emotions must have been spinning with confusion. She went over toward the date palm tree during each video. Gray fox Big Eyes @ camera #14, @ 6:30 PM, 7:43 PM, 7:46 PM, 9:41 PM. Sometime after 9:41 PM she died most likely somewhere near the date palm tree.

That Wednesday afternoon, field intern Johnny Mendez and I checked the area around the date palm tree and down the ramp for Big Eyes’ body. We found nothing.

Thursday morning, January 18, 2024

As I walked from my car and out onto Pond Road, I had a feeling that I might find Big Eyes’ body. Why? I don’t know. In the dark at 6:20 AM, I walked along Pond Road approaching the date palm tree. I turned on my headlight and as I passed an elderberry bush, I happened to look down. Big Eyes lay there in the grass about three feet off the road. My world stopped for an instant. My voice sank as I whispered, “Ah, Big Eyes,” and then a flood of memories flowed through. The one item that stood out just then, and had been known for some time, was just how smart she was in comparison to her late mate Laimos. Following that, I recalled how they loved to run and chase each other. Often she initiated the chase and when it was in full dash and rush, the two of them traded places: He’d chase her, but then she’d change it up and chase him.

This afternoon I decided to take Big Eyes’ body out onto the marsh and let Nature take care of her in the most natural way possible. I pushed my way through five foot high weeds until I broke out and onto the marsh. There lay a blanket that someone had left. I lay her body on it. As I looked at her, I reminded myself that the inert carcass that lay there was not the Big Eyes I knew. This was not Big Eyes, only the remains of what once was a unique gray fox.
Thursday Afternoon, January 18, 2024

At 4:35 PM I emailed Cody at Animal Control – Hi Cody. The female gray fox Big Eyes died yesterday. Since I assumed that it was canine distemper, I moved her from off the side of the road, out onto the marsh to let Nature continue the process of death.

Cody sent me a text message in reply:

Hi Bill. I’m very sorry to hear that, and yes… most likely distemper. We would still prefer to pick up the body so the likelihood of the distemper spreading (to cats/dogs/raccoons, etc.) is minimized. If you can send me the location via email (I’m off tomorrow and turning off my phone) I can pass it on to my co-workers. Thanks!

My first reaction to Cody’s text message was that I didn’t want to have anyone pick her up.

Friday, January 19, 2024

I slept on it that night and by morning, the idea that other critters would likely pick up that virus, changed my mind. I really didn’t want any of the other critters to have to suffer like Laimos and Big Eyes had in their final moments. So, I wrote:

Hi Cody: I’d like to be there, if possible. It’s along the road going out to the overflow channel near the date palm tree. There’s an elderberry bush right in front of the palm tree and to the left is a critter trail. Down that trail, past the palm tree and off on the left is where I left her. There just happened to be a blanket there. She’s lying on it.

I wasn’t notified when one of the officers went out and picked up her body.

The absence of the foxes in the Baylands is felt deeply, leaving a void within the natural ecosystem.

I. Gray Fox Population & General Health

As of this date, both gray foxes Laimos and Big Eyes have died. There are no gray foxes in the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve.

II. UWRP News & Updates

Bay Area Bountiful: The Fox Guy

This short interview with Bill was produced by Rick Bacigalupi for NorCal Public Media’s ‘Bay Area Bountiful’, and will be distributed “…for rotation indefinitely on our two broadcast channels, KRCB-TV (Ch 22) and KPJK (Ch 60) viewable over-the-air and on cable systems around the Bay Area.”

The Road to Fox Hollow

Today, Bill is the world’s leading authority on the gray fox. This book is an account of his experiences among the gray foxes of the Baylands, a tale of life and death, of growth and loss. Stay for a while and go exploring with the Fox Guy. Find it today at Barnes & Noble or DiAngelo Publications.

The ‘Triggered By Motion’ Experience

The UWRP is excited to present our newest video documentary featuring Bill Leikam’s participation in the global research project “Triggered By Motion”, a world-wide exhibit of citizen scientists from 21 locations using camera traps to learn about local urban wildlife. Join Bill on his journey between California and Zürich, Switzerland, as he experiences the breathtaking exhibition in person!

Read more about UWRP in the news:

III. UWRP Research Objectives

Within the permit that allows the Urban Wildlife Research Project to conduct its study of the behavior of the gray fox at the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, the objectives covered area:

Monitoring of urban gray fox denning sites in Palo Alto Baylands: This is being accomplished during the period when the gray foxes use a den site. It is one of the prime locations for gathering most of the behavioral data of the litter and for adults alike. 

Assessment of status and population trends of Baylands urban gray foxes: Since January 2019 a pair of resident gray foxes have claimed territory at the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve.

Identification of habitat features that promote the presence of urban gray foxes: After considering this and talking with people who know how to restore habitats, we need to assess what kinds of plants, including the Alkaline Saltbush, would grow best along the edge of the saltwater channel and alongside the marsh. We need to grow a permanent habitat that contains the corridors and plant it as soon as possible. We’ll keep an eye on this as this is a critical link between the southern region of the Baylands and the northern region.

Assessment of reproductive success and identification of factors that promote successful reproduction: Open the pinch-point along Matadero Creek by developing thickets that link one area to another, instead of the present “islands”.  

Identification and assessment of possible dispersal travel routes: Dispersal routes move between the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve and the Shoreline region over in Mountain View. In a north-westerly direction the dispersal corridors run just behind the homes bordering the marshlands.

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