BATH — Government agencies failed to catch any foxes, a rabies-carrying animal behind 18 attacks on people and pets over the past year, in a controversial trapping effort in March. Professional wildlife trappers said the types of traps used and an abundance of wild rodents — the foxes’ main prey — are to blame.

The trapping program cost the city $26,611 and was designed to reduce the density of animal species that may carry rabies, including gray fox, red fox, skunk and raccoon to eliminate the chance of a human and wild animal interacting.

Twenty-four raccoons and four skunks were caught and euthanized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Maine Inland Fish and Wildlife, according to a preliminary report released by the city last week. Two gray foxes, three skunks, two brown bats, one muskrat, one brown rat and one raccoon were found dead or euthanized separately from the trapping program in Bath and collected for sampling.

The USDA used baited box traps, which are designed to trap an animal in a wire cage. The traps are nonlethal.

USDA wildlife biologist Adam Vashon said box traps aren’t the most efficient way to catch foxes, but they were chosen because it wouldn’t harm any household pets who accidentally got trapped. Three domestic cats were caught in the traps and turned over to the Bath animal control officer who reunited the pets with their owners.

“Gray foxes can and have been captured routinely in cage traps, whereas red foxes are unlikely to be captured in cage traps,” said Vashon. “Red foxes have keen instincts for avoiding traps, mainly due to their sense of smell and shyness toward people.”

William Jones, a Bath-based licensed animal trapper, said he would’ve used foothold traps, which are set on the ground and shut when an animal triggers the trap with their foot. He said it’s the best way to catch a fox because it can be hidden, making it more difficult to notice. Many also believe these traps to be inhumane, though Jones said they’re designed to restrain an animal without harming it.

“Using foothold traps is how wildlife agencies trap animals to transport them,” said Jones. “We have certain guidelines we have to follow to ensure the trap doesn’t damage the animal.”

Jones has only caught one fox in a cage trap similar to those the USDA used in Bath. He said he believes the fox was starving and went into the trap to eat the bait.

Shawn Mills, a state-licensed animal damage control agent from Wiscasset, said foxes likely weren’t interested in the traps because they have plenty of other food available.

“There are a plethora of rodents around because we had an easy winter, so foxes have no real need to go into a bait trap for food,” said Mills.

While no foxes were captured, Mark Latti, communications director of the IF&W, said the trapping program was still a success because it caught and removed 28 animals that could potentially carry rabies, which decreases the overall spread of the virus.

Latti said he expects the rise in rabies already had reduced the fox population in the area, meaning there were fewer foxes available to trap.

“Once disease and starvation start to appear, it knocks back the population of a species,” said Latti. “It’s a horrible thing, but it’s mother nature’s population control.”

Bath saw 16 rabies cases in 2019, compared to just two the year before, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. One grey fox from Bath tested positive for rabies on January 6, but no Bath animals have tested positive since then.

The USDA is testing the animals to determine whether any were infected by rabies, which can only be done after an animal is dead. The full report from the USDA analyzing the results of the program will be released to the public in June. The city declined to share additional information regarding the trapping program until the report is complete.


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