Begging Red Fox A Traffic Hazard At San Juan Island National Historical Park

This red fox has been disrupting traffic by begging on Cattle Point Road near the American Camp entrance to San Juan Islands National Historical Park. NPS photo.

He's cute, and possibly even charming, but a red fox that has been panhandling along the Cattle Point Road at San Juan Island National Historical Park in Washington state has turned into a traffic hazard.

Superintendent Lee Taylor says the problem stems from visitors stopping in the road to observe, photograph or feed the animal. Of course, feeding the fox is a problem in itself, and park visitors need to remember not to feed animals.

"The fox has definitely created a safety issue at American Camp," says Superintendent Taylor. "We're urging motorists not to stop, as the location is just beyond the park visitor center entrance road and on a nearly blind curve. That means everyone must use extreme caution."

Ordinarily the park would move the fox to safer location, but two kits were spotted nearby, which indicates a den, the superintendent says. "That means the fox must remain and the burden of safety falls upon us humans."

While they can be a delight to watch, red foxes on San Juan Island have learned that humans often mean a free meal. Unfortunately, a fed fox may condemn it to be a dead fox. The feeding of any wildlife on national park lands is illegal and dangerous to humans as well as the animals, Superintendent Taylor notes.

"Eventually fed foxes come to rely solely on the food handouts they receive and come winter, when all the food-bearing tourists have left, those foxes starve to death," she says. "They are also more likely to be run over by a motorist because they frequent roads and parking areas."

Weighing about 10 to 14 pounds, red foxes are members of the dog family Canidae. They have long, pointed snouts and erect ears, and are often seen because they prefer open habitats and are not strictly nocturnal.

Because the red fox can be orange, silver, black, or any combinations thereof, look for its distinguishing mark: a bushy, white-tipped tail. They also commonly have black "stockings," white undersides, and ears that may be tipped in black outside with white inside. They look bigger than they really are because of their thick, bushy coat, and even then can look rangy with tall, skinny legs.