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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

In Defense of Little Foxes

Air Date: Week of

RedFox takes a bite out of the squirrel Mark Seth Lender nicknamed “The Fat Man.” (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

Living on Earth Explorer in Residence, Mark Seth Lender, describes his internal conflict when a red fox who’s a welcome visitor to his backyard pursues a familiar squirrel.


DOERING: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Jenni Doering.

O’NEILL: And I’m Aynsley O’Neill. Over the years, Living on Earth Explorer in Residence Mark Seth Lender has peered through his camera lens at wild animals all over the world, from cheetahs to polar bears to wildebeest. But sometimes, memorable encounters happen right in his own backyard.

LENDER: RedFox is sitting on the stone garden wall, her expression doubtful. On the other hand, she wouldn’t be out in the open like that if she didn’t feel safe. We have a not quite entente cordiale. She thinks she belongs. And I love to see her.

Today that love was put to the test.

Valerie’s yelling, “Mark! Mark! She’s got a squirrel!”

“She” can only be RedFox.

Grab the camera, down the stairs two at a time; not a thought for the squirrel.

Until I see him:

The squirrel is a squirrel that I know. The Fat Man, named after Sydney Greenstreet’s character in The Maltese Falcon, and just as unsavory. The Fat Man has done better than the birds on sunflower seeds I put out, driven out the other squirrels. And he’s unfriendly. Now, too much success has caught up with him. RedFox has him limp in her jaws.

RedFox fixes Mark Seth Lender with a look. (Photo: © Mark Seth Lender)

She puts him down – game over – except it isn’t. He comes to and escapes.

She catches him, he breaks free, turns on her - The Fat Man is like a cornered tiger - and I am impaled. I want to let things take their course but I know him.

I move quickly toward the fox.

RedFox retreats maybe ten feet. Stops. Does not growl. Grimace. She just looks. Head tilted a little. Eyes not too wide nor narrow:

“What are you doing?” This is what that look means, clear as day, “What are you doing?”

I am breaking the law, that’s what I’m doing. And this is a law you do not break.

Knowing even a little who that squirrel was, look what I did. Why only him? Why only those that we know? Why not everyone.

O’NEILL: That’s Living on Earth Explorer in Residence, Mark Seth Lender. For pictures, check out our website, loe.org.



Read the corresponding field note for this essay

Visit Mark Seth Lender’s website


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