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Few mammals are found naturally in so many parts of the world (Eurasia, the Americas, Japan, northern Africa), and the red fox is part of the very fabric of Sicily's complex ecosystem. Ranging in weight from four to five kilograms, the red fox (vulpes vulpes) has a reddish brown or golden coat, with some black or white coloring on its underside and extremities. It has yellow eyes when mature. Red foxes eat mice, toads, fruit and even small rabbits, and in certain parts of Sicily they compete with wild cats for the same prey. The red fox's population in Sicily was greatly reduced for the animal's taste in raw poultry.
Typically nocturnal, the red fox is not a pack animal like the wolf, but it is often territorial. Since it can survive in a variety of terrains, the fox has adapted to Sicily's deforestation over the centuries, and lives in many parts of the island. However, wooded areas such as the Nebrodi and Madonie mountains and the slopes of Mount Etna are home to larger populations of red foxes than are grain fields and open country.
In Sicily, red foxes breed in the coldest months of the brief Winter, December and January. Litters average around five pups.
There are certainly more foxes than wolves in Sicily, though precise numbers are unavailable. Both are protected species, and angry farmers are discouraged from killing the furry creatures, which do not often disturb people except by threatening chickens. (Wolves, rather than foxes, attack sheep, but nowadays this is a rare event in Sicily; indeed sheep themselves are becoming a rarity in many parts of the island.) Red foxes are often rabid but usually avoid human attention.
Hunted almost to extinction, the red fox has made something of a comeback in recent decades. As a sport, fox hunting (mounted hunters using dogs to flush foxes out of dens or undergrowth) was never very popular in Sicily, even among the aristocracy, though there is a record of King Ferdinand I having hunted fox (and wild cats and boars) at Ficuzza with some British officers and diplomats in the early 1800s. Few Sicilians have ever seen a red fox in the wild. The foxes themselves probably prefer it that way.
About the Author: Vincenzo Mormino is active in wildlife preservation throughout Sicily. He has written about the purple swamp hen, wild cat and other creatures for previous issues.