By MADDY VITALE
Over the last few months residents and visitors in Sea Isle City have gone to social media to post comments about red fox sightings on the island from the dunes to the Promenade to the streets.
And some savvy or very lucky observers have even captured photos and videos of the often elusive wildlife.
But if residents and vacationers thought that they were seeing more foxes this year than in recent ones, they may be right, explained Annette Lombardo, chairwoman of the Sea Isle City Environmental Commission.
“A couple of years ago they got the mange,” Lombardo said of a skin disease caused by parasites that can be common in foxes and result in a decrease in the population.
She continued, “That is why over the last few years people said they noticed more rabbits. People were being overwhelmed by rabbits in their gardens because there weren’t many foxes around.”
Lombardo said while that is not the conclusive reason why people may not have seen foxes much in recent years, it is one of the reasons.
She believes mange affected the fox population in the area from about 2017 or 2018 through part of 2019. Now people may be seeing the young offspring taking up residence in Sea Isle.
Lombardo said that the foxes don’t pose a threat to people.
“You should keep your distance from them, though,” she stressed. “They are wild animals.”
Lombardo also cautioned that, like any other wild animal, if you venture into their territory they may protect themselves or their territory.
“I am glad to see they are coming back,” she said. “They help balance nature.”
It seemed that many of the Facebook comments on a photo posted in SeaIsleNews.com taken by Barbara Fischer were also positive about what appears to be a fox comeback.
One Facebook post came from Brenda Michelle. “Does anyone know where these foxes are living? I had never seen any here until this year. There is one living around 67th Street and Central – I was seeing him pretty much every night and during the busy season,” she wrote.
Cheryl Kehner posted, “Fox live all over the island, their natural habitat.”
Another post came from Mary Pat Wellman Tanz, who said a fox “followed us up to the front door a few weeks ago.”
Another poster, Maria Ballestrino Carlin, didn’t say she saw any foxes recently, but pointed out that she used to see one “all the time in the Townsends Inlet dunes.”
Dr. Alex Ernst, associate veterinarian at the Cape May County Zoo, explained that no matter what the reason people are seeing foxes, it is a good thing.
“There is nothing unnatural about red fox living on the barrier islands. They are one of dozens of species of wildlife here,” Ernst noted. “Because of the development of the barrier islands, there is a push of wildlife out.”
But seeing red foxes in the area – maybe more now than in recent years – is definitely a sign of something good, he said.
“Red foxes making a comeback is a good thing. When wild animals re-populate an area, it is a sign of health,” Ernst emphasized. “They play a role in the South Jersey ecosystem. If they are showing up, it means all levels of the ecosystem are able to support the red fox.”
And for the nature lovers or curious onlookers who relish the sightings, Ernst said, enjoy.
But, like Lombardo, he urges people to maintain their distance from the foxes.
“I would just say enjoy seeing them because they belong here more than we do. They were there before we were. They pose no threat to adults or children,” Ernst said. “And they are completely and utterly harmless.”