A Risky Business or a Rich Reward?

Red foxes are one of the most ubiquitous carnivore species across the northern hemisphere, in no small part because of their adaptability in what and how they eat. In the clip above, you can see a fox and its kit gnawing at an unidentified piece of food, possibly scavenged from a nearby human settlement. They are also known to scavenge the kills of larger carnivores like snow leopards, a risky move that can see the fox injured or killed.

Wait for it. Watch full video to see a surprise food offering at the end. 

Scavenging is a common fox behavior that can provide easy access to food with minimal effort. Seemingly, a win for the foxes… except when it isn’t. A recent report by Snow Leopard Trust scientists, dubbed “Risky Business,” explores two observations of red foxes found dead near snow leopard kills. We asked the researchers what implications this might have for our conservation work.

In both instances where researchers found a dead fox near a carcass, snow leopards were either seen or verified to have been present by GPS and camera traps. While there are known reports of foxes being killed by carnivores such as wolves and lynxes, to our knowledge, these are the first accounts of foxes killed while scavenging from a snow leopard kill.

We can’t be sure these foxes were killed by snow leopards, though the only other carnivores present in both locations are brown bears, wolves and dogs. These species kill by slashing bites or bites and shakes, which result in large wounds, compared to snow leopards which generally kill by a bite to the throat or neck (like most felids). Both foxes showed no signs of outer trauma and the researchers found no evidence of other large carnivores, so we suspect snow leopards killed them both.

Interestingly, while scavenging poses a risk to the fox, we have seen enough evidence of them present (and not dead) at other snow leopard kills to believe that scavenging holds the potential for a protein-rich reward. However, as these observations show, it can be a risky business for the scavenger, a risk that it is presumably willing to take.

As we continue to deepen our understanding of snow leopard biology, we now have more opportunities to study their ecology and how they interact with other species.

Read the team’s full paper, featured in the Snow Leopard Network’s new journal Snow Leopard Reports, here. Find a list of authors and acknowledgments here.

To find out more about snow leopard behavior and get our latest research findings, sign up for our monthly E-News here.

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