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Shall We Overcome?

Here is the welcome visited upon us by one of our neighbors.  After arrival at our home in Austin, TX, on July 10, 2021, we found three adult foxes, one male and two females, and a young fox poisoned with a rodent poison, possibly laced with arsenic. Later we found two tiny newborn fox babies lying by their dead mother.

Through tears, I posted to the neighborhood group bulletin this gentle reminder: 

"No matter how you feel about wild animals, please note that putting out rat poison is very dangerous to your pets, dogs and cats. If they eat it or bite on a poisoned mouse, they can die too. Poisoned mice and rats, when eaten by other wildlife - foxes, racoons, coyotes and birds of prey – will kill them too, and so a cascade of deaths will continue. These foxes have lived happily on our property for at least two years." 

This male fox had been our companion during the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, and brightened our days. He was smart and funny, and approached us with certain nonchalance. Earlier, he had interviewed us for about two weeks. Apparently, we passed the interview, and he brought his very shy wife to show her off to us. They had four children, who played around our house, like children do, oblivious to the many dangers around them, but under the watchful eyes of the parents (and us).

And here is "our" magnificent smart fox poisoned some 5-7 days earlier. My wife, Joanna, found him in our plant enclosure and could not stop crying. Before they died, all foxes came back to where they felt safe: our home. But we weren't there to help them. This picture was taken on July 10, 2021.

I continued:  "We have reported the deaths of these foxes to the Sheriff’s Department, and likely will order an autopsy to pinpoint the poison, but right now the most important action we can take is to make sure that the deadly poison is not served again to the animals in our neighborhood. Please remember that once in the environment, the poison does not choose who will die next. It can be your pet."

 Here is our fox's wife and a young pup we don't know.  She came to our house to give birth to two babies, and died. We found another dead female fox nearby. This picture was taken on July 11, 2021.

This the third dead fox, a young female, who died six feet from "our" fox, at likely the same time.  Since she was completely exposed, vultures started eating her. This picture was taken on July 10, 2021.

I got many messages with support from the neighbors.  Here is one: "Thank you for making us aware of this, Tad. And thank you for reporting to the Sheriff's Department. I hope steps can be taken to prevent this from happening again in our neighborhood. Grieving for these beauties with you. We saw two foxes on our property a week ago and my heart breaks to think they may be gone like this. I agree, there is no place for poison in our environment. Sending support."

In subsequent messages posted to the bulletin board, I wrote: "Thank you, dear XXX. Yes, it was a terrible shock for both of us. Somehow we did not expect that such things could happen in our neighborhood. We have assumed that most people live here to be closer to nature, not exterminate it. The dead mother fox we picked up yesterday gave birth to two pups. We found two more tiny bodies today. So the body count now is three adult foxes, one young fox, and two newborn babies. We talk about the sixth extinction in the age of Anthropocene. A  mini-extinction was delivered to us by our neighbors. Here is an illustration from the Frontiers in Conservation  Science showing that soon we will become endangered species on an emptied out, hellish planet."

From "Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future,"  by Bradshaw Corey J. A., Ehrlich Paul R., Beattie Andrew, Ceballos Gerardo, Crist Eileen, Diamond Joan, Dirzo Rodolfo, Ehrlich Anne H., Harte John, Harte Mary Ellen, Pyke Graham, Raven Peter H., Ripple William J., Saltré Frédérik, Turnbull Christine, Wackernagel Mathis, Blumstein Daniel T., in Frontiers in Conservation Science, 1, 2021.

"By the way, if we kill all natural predators, the mice and rat populations will skyrocket. This is ecology 101. So more poison will be used. Everyone should think about it before using arsenic or another deadly poison."

These two tiny newborn foxes were covered by their mother's tail.  In shock, I did not see them at first, when I picked up their mother's body to bury her next to our cat's grave.  This picture was taken on July 12, 2021.

And so life goes on.  Three generations of foxes were eliminated by a myopic human with access to a poison.  These foxes roamed through our neighborhood.  Our 15 acres were too small for them.  Directly to the south of our property we have two neighbors who have chicken.  To the north we have one neighbor with chicken.  Rats, foxes, racoons, and coyotes steal eggs.  Racoons and coyotes kill and eat chicken.  Hawks, owls and foxes hunt rats.  Vultures eat dead animals.  All get poisoned and die.  We love organic eggs, but from now on will be very careful in sourcing them. 

My son, Dr. Lucas Patzek, who is Executive Director of the Napa County Resource Conservation District and works with hundreds of farmers, told me that chicken owners are the largest sources of animal poisonings, and pointed out this link.  Once poisoned with the new super rodent bait, the wild animals cannot be saved, even when caught early and brought to intensive care.

Can human nature and selfish myopia be overcome?  I can only hope that the answer is yes, in memory of all animals we kill every day.

Two/four fox children are playing near our house.  Are they all dead today? This picture was taken a year ago, on July 8, 2020.

P.S. (7/14/2021) I just spoke with the Hays County Game Warden, Mr. Brandon Pearson, 512-757-7627.  He wants to come and talk to the Big Country neighbors.  He stated that one cannot start poisoning wild animals with impunity, because it is illegal and therefore a crime.

P.S.P.S. (7/17/2021)  So that there is no doubt, close to the dead female fox, there was a dead rat that was poisoned, too. Rats do not catch distemper, a viral disease that attacks dogs, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and large cats such as lions and tigers. The virus infects the lungs, airways, nose, and eyes. It can also infect the brain and suppress the immune system. Distemper can cause serious illness and death in these animals. It does not cause illness in cats or people. How do foxes catch distemper? They catch distemper from other foxes or wild animals that are infected with it. They can catch it by having direct contact with the sick animal, or by standing near the animal when it is coughing. They can also catch it if they have contact with food bowls or other objects that were contaminated by infected animals. Puppies are the most likely to catch it. What are the symptoms in animals? Coughing is the most common symptom. They usually develop fever and discharge from the eyes and / or nose. The disease can also cause disorientation, tremors, twitches and seizures. Infected animals are vulnerable to catching more infections, such as bacterial pneumonia. The symptoms are similar in raccoons and other wildlife. You cannot tell for sure just by looking at the fox. Veterinarians can order blood and urine tests to test an animal for distemper.  By the way, rat bait poisoning causes similar symptoms: nose bleeding, breath shortness, disorientation and seizures.  

There is also a feline distemper.  It’s called FVRCP & infects domestic house cats. It stands for Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus, and Panleukopenia. Also known as the feline combo or Feline Distemper Vaccine, the FVRCP vaccine is a combination vaccine, meaning it includes protection against more than one disease (in this case, three common, but potentially serious, airborne viruses). Feline Distemper affects lynxes, bobcats and domesticated cats. Although both canine and feline forms of distemper are highly contagious and life-threatening, canine distemper and feline distemper are very different, species-specific viral diseases.


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, dear Koji, our hearts are broken. But then we grieve constantly for all the animals that die every day on the roads, in the cities, in forest fires, in dying coral reefs, polluted rivers, and in the environmental devastation we call "development." The reason is always the same: too many people who want too many things from our Earth, and kill everything around them when made uncomfortable for whatever reason. The criminal organizations, like Monsanto, Syngenta, Byer, DuPont et al., deliver the ever more sophisticated poisons. These poisons are then sold by Home Depot, Amazon, Walmart, Walgreens, HEBs et al. People who are scared of scorpions, tarantulas, ants, snakes, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, foxes, lynxes, bobcats, mountain lions, etc. lash out and kill them by any means at their disposal. Did you notice that the first "human" reaction is inevitably to KILL? How mindless and cruel is this? No animal would ever react like this.

  2. Not many people appreciate the wonders of nature. I blame air conditioning not because I want to live without it. I don't, but people are now so comfortable indoors that they are always uncomfortable outdoors. Their complaints about nature irritations of insects and other of God's creatures are much more irritating to me.

    I live in a city in West Texas. I see foxes almost every night when I walk my dogs. I wonder where they spend their daylight hours? I have seen a Bobcat in the city and coyotes.

    I hope other foxes find your home and sanctuary. And if you are lucky, different species too. Especially birds and many different one too!

    1. Dear John,
      Most people today live in the big cities (slums in general), have little or no experience in the outdoors beyond urban spaces, and view nature as a threat. Thus, poison (pesticides, insecticides, rodent poison, coyote bait, etc.) and active killing of the animals these people encounter comes to them naturally.
      The COVID-19 pandemic only strengthened this sentiment. I had an incredible luck and privilege of growing up immersed in nature, and continued this way until today.

      Recently two foxes came back. One of them was the male fox whose wife was poisoned, but he survived. The other was a new female. Hopefully they will establish their new family, where he other foxes left.

      During 2020, we got to know all sorts of animals, foxes, deer, skunks, raccoons, opossums, hawks, owls, birds, frogs, snakes, lizards, etc.) up close and personal. We have relearned how smart, caring, family-oriented and playful they are when we do not try to exterminate them as a “threat” to our families.

      I used to hunt deer, but have stopped after watching them so closely for over one year. I can’t bring myself to shooting them anymore. And so it goes…


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