As Fox bites continue, Alabama wildlife experts urge calm

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( — Mike Niemeyer is not often the guy who is bitten by a wild animal. Normally, he's the one called to someone's property to catch it.

But last month, while trying to retrieve a gray fox underneath a sink inside a Fairhope house, Niemeyer was bitten on the foot.

The biting occurred June 13, and was one of six such incidents in Alabama so far this year resulting in a positive rabies test of a fox carrying the fatal virus. Half of the positive tests came out of Baldwin County, and all of those have occurred since May.

The fox troubles are generating media attention and striking fear and uncertainty in Alabama's fastest-growing county, where new subdivisions are sprouting up next to wooded areas that have long been homes for wild creatures.

The fox attacks are also confounding experts and police. Niemeyer said he's getting "three to four calls a day" from the public.

"I'll be honest, it's weird when you're getting reports of foxes acting crazy," said Niemeyer, adding that the reports stretch along the coast from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to Pensacola, Florida. "It's something new."

State wildlife experts are urging calm. They want to remind people to stay away from wild animals, keep domestic pet food stored, and to make sure that their own pet dogs and cats are vaccinated.

"With all sincerity we, the No. 1 thing we want to do is protect the public," said Dr. Dee Jones, the state public health veterinarian. "But No. 2, we don't want someone to overly endanger a fox either. That's a tricky balance in trying to get people to vaccinate their animals and not go around killing the foxes.

"If the animal is diseased, it needs to be done away with. But I don't know if these animals are diseased. We don't want a bounty put on foxes if they aren't diseased."

Jones said that while there has been rabies detected in some of the foxes, not all of them are carriers of the virus.

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