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Virginia wildlife center staff make adjustments to raise an orphaned baby fox

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Raising a little one is not easy. Sometimes you have to make adjustments. The staff at a wildlife center in Virginia are going through that right now but not for a human baby, for a baby fox, also known as a kit.

MELISSA STANLEY: We've only ever gotten older foxes. So this is our first neonatal fox.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

That is Melissa Stanley, the founder and executive director of the Richmond Wildlife Center, where they take in pretty much any animal - chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs. She says the fox was brought to the shelter when it was just a few hours old.

STANLEY: As her eyes unseal and she opens her eyes for the first time, we don't want the first thing for her to see in this world to be a human.

FADEL: So to keep the kit from getting too attached to humans, Stanley puts on a big, furry fox mask.

STANLEY: We don't want that animal associating a positive reward like food with a human.

FADEL: The mask looks like a stuffed fox head. It's orange, white and black, with a long snout and little tufts of fur coming out of its ears.

MARTÍNEZ: Fellow fox rescuer Trevor Williams says costumes can help keep animals from imprinting on people - that is, associating food and nurturing with humans.

TREVOR WILLIAMS: It has been provenly effective with certain species, notably a scientist using an outfit which was kind of like a stork to raise young storks.

MARTÍNEZ: Williams founded The Fox Project, an organization in the U.K. that rescues about 1,200 foxes a year.

WILLIAMS: Foxes don't really imprint on you if you raise them right.

FADEL: At the Virginia shelter, Stanley says it's also important to make sure fox kits have limited interaction with humans.

STANLEY: You never want to raise any wild animal alone, especially when they're this young. You want to give them an opportunity to recognize their own species, because the whole point is to get them back out into the wild where they have a great chance for survival.

FADEL: So Stanley says the tiny kit will soon be around fellow foxes.

STANLEY: We actually found a wildlife rehabilitation group about two hours north of our facility that has four fox kits her same age, so we're actually going to be transferring her to them so she'll be able to begin to play and cuddle and smell all the fox smells.

FADEL: And the ultimate goal is for the baby fox to one day be reintroduced to the wild. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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