OCEAN CITY — Red foxes are out in abundance, but Ocean City’s animal control director says there’s nothing to worry about.
“Now that the tourists are gone, they’re looking for food,” said Bill Hollingsworth, who is also executive director at the Humane Society of Ocean City.
In a City Council meeting last month, 3rd Ward Councilman Tony Wilson said he’s received calls from residents about recent fox sightings.
“Foxes are back,” he said, with at-large Councilwoman Karen Bergman adding that they’re “everywhere.”
4th Ward Councilman Bob Barr also agreed with Wilson, saying foxes are “slowly but surely” coming back.
“I don’t need an answer tonight, but let’s see what we can do,” Wilson said to Mayor Jay Gillian, who indicated in his reply that moving foxes or other wildlife is a complicated process.
In a recent interview, Hollingsworth said the majority of fox sightings occur between 18th and 26th streets, with other sightings in areas such as Corsons Inlet State Park, on the southern tip of the island.
Hollingsworth said red fox have been prevalent on the island for years, while inland areas such as Upper Township have seen a steady increase in coyote population.
“They’re very important for the ecosystem,” he said of the foxes. “If you didn’t have foxes, you’d have an abundance of rabbits.”
In recent years, Ocean City’s foxes have appeared unafraid of people. In the summer of 2015, fox were reportedly eating doughnuts from peoples’ hands outside of Brown’s Restaurant at St. Charles Place and the boardwalk, in Ocean City’s northend.
“It’s the easiest access. If something is being handed to them to eat, why would they bother hunting it down?” restaurant owner Jim Brown told The Press of Atlantic City that summer. Brown posted two signs at his shop that summer, asking people not to feed the animals, according to the report.
Hollingsworth said the foxes’ exposure to tourists here in the summer has made them a more domestic, curious sort. He also said the foxes have become more dependent on people for food.
“If people won’t feed them, they won’t rely on people for food,” Hollingsworth said. “They’re not doing a favor by feeding the foxes.”
As the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has jurisdiction over foxes, Hollingsworth stressed that he and other city officials are not allowed to take the animals off the island. He said he knows of at least five active fox dens in Ocean City, but he declined to specify where, saying the city doesn’t want people to approach them.
Hollingsworth said the foxes will be out and about until mid-December. After mating season from January until March, they’ll be back again.
The animals are harmless, he said, and should be left alone.
“The main thing is we want to keep them wild and keep them as part of the ecosystem. And making sure they’re healthy,” Hollingsworth said.