It was a mystery at first…
A reader recently emailed a picture of a creature that he said was shot by a neighbor as it attacked his dogs in the Mountain Top area.
He said the animal hopped and had hooves and fangs, and had a picture to back it up.I eagerly hit the download button and saw the proof. The animal appeared to be some sort of canine with long back legs, pointy ears and was basically hairless aside from a thin, fuzzy coat.
The animal was shot on Feb. 22 and, according to the person who sent the email, the Game Commission was called, came in and took the dead animal away without an explanation.
But at least I had a place to start. I called the PGC region office in Dallas and they had no report of the incident.
I studied the picture again, and the mysterious creature began to take shape.
Pointy, black-tipped ears. A coating of thin, black fur on the legs. A snout like a dog and a somehwat elongated neck.
What really threw me off was the absence of a coat and a hairless, thin tail.
Still, I had a hunch and I asked a biologist friend for a second opinion.
Turns out the creature is a red fox with an extreme case of mange. It was basically hairless, which would explain why the back legs looked unusually long and why the ears and tail were noticeably pointy.
And the black on the tips of the ears and legs were clear evidence of a red fox, the biologist pointed out. But what about the hooves, fangs and the tendency for the animal to hop? The fangs were canine teeth.
Hopping? I’ve seen foxes plenty of times bound through a field, much like a cat pouncing. Also, perhaps the mange caused the animal such discomfort that it hopped rather than walked?
And the hooves… well I had to zoom in on the photo to clear that one up. The paws look a bit swollen and disfigured, which could be a side-effect of the mange. The swollen, black pads on the fox’s paws could certainly give its feet a hoof-like appearance.
And because the fox was sick with mange, I don’t find it unreasonable that it would attack a couple of dogs. A few days later the red fox theory was further supported.
I spoke to a local Wildlife Conservation Officer whose district includes the area where the mysterious creature was shot. He said he had been seeing a red fox in the vicinity with an extreme case of mange and had the photos to prove it. Sure enough, it matched up with the animal that was shot while attacking the dogs - a hairless, skinny red fox. In the end, what started out as an oddball creature turned out to be a mangy, hairless red fox.
It was an interesting find, and an example of just how debilitating and serious a disease such as mange can be on wildlife.
In many rural areas a place is defined by the people who live there. One small town in Wyoming County recently lost a resident who was the face of the community. Barb Richter passed away on March 1 at the age of 67.
She and her late husband, Chuck, owned the Tombstone Inn in Lovelton for 36 years and both were well-known by the hunters and anglers who headed up north every year. A day of bass fishing the farm ponds in Lovelton wasn’t complete without stopping at the Tombstone for a burger and to say hello to Barb. She loved seeing people coming up to hunt and fish as much as we enjoyed the mountains and ponds that surround the town. Lovelton may have lost a face of its community, but Barb left a mark that will be remembered for a long time.