FOXES' FRIEND

Wildlife Photographer And Rehabber Amy Shutt Has Devoted Herself To Learning About Red And Gray Foxes

story by TRey Iles, LDWF Public Information

photos by Amy Shutt

Amy Shutt’s interaction with foxes is a paradox of sorts. There’s no questioning the passion she has for the species, something she pours her heart and soul into through photography, educating herself and others about the animals and in the rehabilitation process.

But you’ll never see her getting too close to the canids for which she cares. She’ll never cuddle with an orphaned fox like she does her dog.

The reason is simple yet can be difficult for some people to understand. By cozying up to a wild animal, humans do much more harm than good. In fact, it can mean the untimely end to an animal like a fox.

If a wild animal becomes habituated to humans, it will lose its natural fear of people and have no qualms about approaching them. To some, especially those with small children, this is worrisome and often that animal is reported as being a nuisance.

This is especially true of foxes who have been fed by humans. They have learned that humans equal food. Foxes approaching people and cars for handouts is a death sentence waiting to happen. This behavior can lead to the fox having to be trapped or euthanized. The adage, “Don’t feed the animals,’’ is the most succinct and best way to put it.

So why not just make it a pet? Not only is having a fox as a pet in Louisiana illegal, it’s impossible to domesticate most wild animals.

“We think they’re cute and we want to help them by giving them food,’’ said Shutt, an award-winning wildlife photographer as well as a Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries licensed wildlife rehabilitator. “I get that. It’s how we’re wired. But if you truly want to help a wild animal like a fox, the best thing to do is to enjoy it from a distance and don’t interact with it.

“My job as a rehabilitator is to get injured or orphaned foxes back into their natural habitat. When I feed the orphaned or injured foxes in my care, I don’t talk to them. I can’t. I don’t pet them. I don’t touch them. They’re usually sleeping or they’re acting like they’re sleeping because they don’t want anything to do with me. And that’s exactly the way it has to be. People will say, ‘I love what you do but that is so unfortunate.’ But it’s really not. The payoff is getting these wonderful animals back to where they belong and giving them the second chance to live their life as a wild animal.’’

Shutt considers educating the public about foxes among the most important assignments she has as a rehabber and wildlife photographer. She has formed The Canid Project, a 501c3 non-profit organization whose stated mission is to, “document and share the stories of not just wild canids but also the stories of humans and the wild canids who enter each other’s lives in some capacity.’’

As Shutt points out, foxes are appearing more frequently in urban areas so educating the public, especially in Louisiana’s more densely populated areas, is key. She said coexistence is the only sustainable answer.

“Foxes aren’t going anywhere,’’ Shutt said. “They’re expanding and that’s the reality of it. If you kill a ton of foxes or coyotes in an area the foxes and coyotes that are in the adjacent territory will come in, take over that vacancy and produce more.’’

A Chance Sighting

Shutt was thrust into this role purely by accident and a chance encounter about 11 years ago with a family of foxes that had made their home near the lakes of LSU in Baton Rouge. She had seen a fox before but at a great distance and never gave that much thought.

“I was driving home one day with my daughter (Logan) and she screamed, ‘Mom, I saw a fox,’ ‘’ Shutt said. “It was around 3-4 p.m. and we spotted a mother and its kit (juvenile fox) in a culvert. I went home and grabbed my camera and came back. They were just right there curiously watching us.’’

Shutt and her daughter returned and noticed the house where the foxes were denning. They would visit in the evenings to watch, keeping their distance at all times.

“They’re the cutest animals to watch,’’ Shutt said. “The family dynamics are very entertaining. It was one of the best memories I had living in that area. I became really fascinated by them. I had always liked animals and biology so I started reading about them as much as I could. And I got back into photography because of them. I had stopped shooting for a while and that was what pulled me back into photography and into wildlife photography.’’

Boy, did it pull Shutt in.

In the years since, Shutt has become a premiere wildlife photographer and expert on red foxes and gray foxes. She’s traveled to Kenya’s Maasai Mara to photograph lions, cheetah, elephants, giraffe and other species many times and now leads photo tours there as well. She also has visited Prince Edward Island near New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in Canada to photograph foxes and has just started conservation photography workshops in the area under The Canid Project name.

Her passion has also taken her to Kent, just outside of London, to learn more about the species. England is, of course, famous for its fox hunts among the royals and British elite.

The largest red fox rescue center in the world is located in Kent. Established in 1991, The Fox Project now admits and treats around 800 foxes per year, including 250 kits. Shutt visited and assisted at the center between May of 2016 and May of 2017.

“There is a very large population of urban red foxes in England,’’ Shutt said. “I’d visit for a week or two at a time. They have this amazing program with two fox ambulances. I’d ride along and act as an assistant for 12 hours a day. They are so successful and I learned a great amount from the experience.’’

That led to her progression to become a wildlife rehabilitator with LDWF, specializing in foxes. She earned her license about a year ago.

Shutt had worked as a volunteer with Leslie Lattimore and her Wings of Hope organization in Livingston Parish since 2007.

“I’d go out when I could and help,’’ Shutt said. “It (getting her rehab license) was always something in the back of my mind I wanted to do just to help Leslie out because she has a huge amount of animals coming in to her facility.

“We reconnected in May of 2016. She had some gray foxes come in and she knew I enjoyed working with foxes. We’ve only recently been seeing orphaned or injured foxes coming into rehab and I guess that’s because we’re seeing them more in the suburban areas. I was able to help her raise money to get the appropriate enclosure for those gray foxes and helped to research the proper way to rehabilitate them. That’s how obtaining my rehab license all started.’’

Cute But Cunning

Though foxes are canids and look like dogs, Shutt said they resemble cats in many ways. Their eyes have the vertical slit pupils like a cat because they need to be able to focus at close range on their prey. They’re ambush hunters like cats. Red foxes are considered opportunistic omnivores and scavengers. Although they are hunters of small prey, native fruits, insects and roadkill make up a large part of their diet, Shutt said.

“They’re not like wolves, which live and hunt in packs because they take down large prey, like deer, elk and moose,’’ Shutt said. “Although wolves will hunt smaller prey like hares, they prefer larger targets that require a pack to take down. Foxes are solitary hunters because of their food choices. They’re hunters of small prey. The biggest thing they’ll take is probably a rabbit. This is why they don’t hunt in packs.’’

They’re also light, with an average weight of 8-12 pounds, elusive and stealthy. That’s why they’re such a popular game sport in England and Europe. They’re not easy to track.

“Red foxes are like ghosts,’’ Shutt said. “You cannot hear them. I’ve been out on my hammock in the woods on my property and I’ll hear the slightest little noise. It’s a fox that has walked up on me without either of us knowing the other was there, and within a second, it will bolt and completely disappear without a sound.’’

Foxes certainly don’t appear to be menacing and will avoid human contact. It’s enticing to consider them as harmless as a friendly dog. But that can be a big mistake for both the person and the fox, Shutt said.

“People will say, ‘Oh I know that fox and it isn’t going to bite me,’ ‘’ Shutt said. “But you just don’t know. They’re wild animals. They’re way more skittish and way more aware of anomalies in their environment than dogs are. It would just take one small thing to scare that fox and it could, if it felt cornered, bite you. Then that will be the end of the fox. It will have to be euthanized. You have to think about your actions on a larger scale. How are you affecting this animal’s life?’’

While some people see foxes as adorable animals others consider them a threat. The thinking is that they’re a dangerous species that will attack humans, dogs or cats. Actually, Shutt said, they’re spooked pretty easily and will avoid contact with humans and their pets, as long as they aren’t habituated. Cats and dogs are not on a fox’s menu.

Shutt said she received a call some time ago from a man who said he had foxes living under his shed. He had a gun pointed at them, worried they’d attack his dog. The man wanted Shutt to come and take them away. But she took the opportunity to help him understand how foxes exist and to bust some of the myths he believed to be true.

Shutt went out to the man’s house and spent six hours with him and his wife. She left them with a book on of the natural history of foxes as well.

“He was a really nice guy and was just genuinely scared for his dog,’’ Shutt said. “After a while, I had him with his camera out taking pictures of the foxes and really enjoying seeing them interact. He was all about keeping them around.

“Now the wife will call me to give me updates. They’ll have their great nephew over to watch. They do it the right way. They keep their distance and don’t feed or interact with them. It was so nice to see someone who had a gun and wanted to shoot them to change and understand how to coexist with them.’’

Shutt said she understands, however, that some people simply don’t want foxes – or any other wildlife for that matter – near their homes. She said it’s possible to set up their yards, homes and sheds so foxes can’t get into them and to deter them from the area as well.

Nuisance Wildlife

Tips on how to deal with nuisance wildlife can be found on the LDWF web site at

www.wlf.la.gov/wildlife/nuisance-wildlife.

Additional Information

For more information on The Canid Project go to thecanidproject.com. For more information on LDWF’s rehabilitation program, go to www.wlf.la.gov/wildlife-rehabilitation-program.

Meet Amy Shutt

Amy Shutt has combined her love of photography and wildlife into an interesting career. As a photographer, she specializes in wildlife and nature shots and seeks to teach conservation through visual storytelling. She is the director of The Canid Project, founded in 2017, which aims to educate about the world’s wild canids. She’s also a registered wildlife rehabilitator with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

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