A much-loved fox who is a familiar sight at Calke Abbey has been been rescued by an animal shelter after becoming ill.
Calkey, as the fox has now been named, is thought to have become ill after being infected by parasites and there were reports of the animal behaving erratically and frothing at the mouth.
The Linjoy Wildlife Sanctuary and Rescue, based in Etwall, was called to the visitor attraction, near Ticknall, to capture the fox and treat him, said a spokesman.
The fox is well-known to staff and visitors to the Abbey and is quite tame as it is often spotted close to where people are on the estate.
Staff at the animal sanctuary, who are caring for the animal, have named it Calkey after the Abbey, and believed the fox is suffering from an infection known as toxoplasmosis and may have had small seizures due to the condition.
The parasite that causes toxoplasmosis is found in the faeces of infected cats and in infected meat. It can also be caught from soil that has been contaminated by cat faeces, said a spokesman for the sanctuary.
Linjoy founder Lindsay Newell was called out to rescue the animal and has now provided a detailed explanation of what it has been suffering from.
She said: “We were called by grounds workers at Calke Abbey after a fox had been hanging around the visitor centre and had been walking up to staff and visitors. When a staff member tried to touch him, he tried to nip and didn't run away.
“We went over armed with a net and dog catch pole expecting it to be a difficult job. However we were shown where he was and he was just curled up in the sun.
"A staff member had also told us that he saw 'froth' around the fox’s mouth.
“The froth around the mouth indicates this fox may have been having small seizures. The 'tameness' he is exhibiting, along with the seizures and the vacant look in his eyes, is indicative of an infection with toxoplasmosis.
“Toxoplasmosis is caused by a protozoan parasite known as toxoplasma gondii. It affects the brain and nervous system primarily but can also affect organ function. The primary host of the parasite is the domestic cat and only in the cat can it fully complete its lifecycle. Cat faeces can contain oocysts (cysts containing a cell) and this can then go on to infect other animals, including humans.
“Foxes generally catch this disease by contact with the oocysts that are in the environment or by eating an infected animal. Once infected, the oocysts will migrate from the intestines to other parts of the body and form cysts in the brain, muscles and organs. In most cases the animals own immune system will get rid of the infection but some go on to suffer damage.
“It is important to note, that humans can not catch toxoplasmosis from a fox. Humans catch it by eating infected meat or by hands becoming contaminated with oocysts from the soil or cat faeces.
“An infected fox may appear tame, walk about in circles and have no fear of predators such as humans and dogs. The organism causes mice and rats to go up to cats and literally removes the fear from them. The cat will eat the mouse or rat and then the parasite can produce more oocysts. The fox may also start having seizures, go blind, suffer organ damage, and be generally slow or hypersensitive in his or her reactions to stimuli.”
Calkey has now started treatment with antibiotics at the sanctuary. However, they do not treat any brain or organ damage, which is irreversible. Some severely affected foxes end up not suitable for release back into the wild as they cannot fend for themselves. They are, however, no longer actively infected and can live happily in captivity with others of their own kind, she said.
Miss Newell added: “We have noticed he drinks a lot of water so this may indicate kidney problems or be the fact that he has struggled to find water. If he continues to drink excessively, then a blood sample will be taken to check his organ function. We have not observed any seizures as of yet so hoping we have got him before it progresses too far.”
The red fox is a member of the canidae family and is a part of the order carnivora within the class of mammals.
Other members of this family are called ‘canids’ and include dogs, wolves, foxes, coyotes, dingoes, jackals and African Wild Dogs.
The red fox is widely distributed and the most popular canid in the world, having colonised large parts of Europe, America, Asia and Africa. In the British Isles,it is the only native wild canid.
A male fox is called a dog, a female fox is called a vixen, a young fox is called either a kit, pup or cub. A group of foxes is called a skulk.