I arrived in Yellowstone on Sunday afternoon, May 26. The red fox den near the Yellowstone Picnic Area was the talk of the park. Hundreds of people came to see the foxes. The den was only 60 yards from the nearest picnic table. The Park Service put up signs and cones to keep people 50 yards from the den. Seeing the parents all day long was great, but the best times were when they let the kits out to play.
I had gotten some good fox kit photos last year so I wasn’t as inclined as some to watch and photograph the foxes all day long as many people were. I would stop by once or twice a day to see what was happening. As it turned out, I learned that on Thursday that just before I arrived a badger and the vixen started fighting some distance up the road and the fight continued to the den. Many people photographed the fight at the den entrance. At this time the kits were in the den. I learned that when the badger got in the hole one kit ran out of the den entrance and the other got out an escape hole. The foxes had another den about 50 yards away and the the parents rounded up the kits and put them there. The badger never came out that day. It is likely that the vixen had stored food in the den and the badger presumably ate it. One of the parents was usually at the den entrance waiting for the badger to come out.
Everyone came back at the crack of dawn Friday morning. On Friday afternoon at about 5:00 p.m. the badger emerged from the den. Neither fox was around, which was very unusual. The badger went immediately to the other den and entered. I don’t know if it had been to the other den before or it followed a scent trail. When the mother returned she went to the new den site. The badger had back-filled it and the vixen dug and dug, but the badger was able to fill it much faster than the vixen could dig. The vixen bided her time outside the new den site. I learned that the badger came out for a short time Saturday and there was another fight, but it was much shorter than the first fight and the badger went back into the new den.
There doesn’t seem to be any doubt but that the badger killed and ate the kits.
Another photographer told me that he talked to the NPS Ranger that had been there the day before and the Ranger told him that this pair of foxes has yet to successfully raise its kits. I do remember hearing reports of foxes on the other side of the picnic area last year, but I never saw them. I think the photographer said that he was told the badger got the kits last year as well.
As I mentioned, I wasn’t there for the first fight. (I missed the later one as well.) Some people were there for the first fight though and they got good photos of it. To see one person’s photos click here.
Another sad note is that the vixen that I photographed with her kits last May just outside the northeast entrance was hit by a car and killed. Click here for my blog about her last year. She left four kits. One of them died, but someone is feeding the other kits. But they have no one to teach them the secrets to living a long life as a fox. Hopefully, it’s mostly in the genes.