The Ezo Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes schrencki) is a subspecies of red fox that thrives in Hokkaido. And are a species that are highlighted on my annual Hokkaido photography tour. These majestic creatures can also be found on the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin, and the surrounding Northern Japanese Islands. The Ezo red fox is larger than the Japanese red fox found in the Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Also, there are slight differences in the color of the lines on the outer ears and limbs, but other than that, they are very similar. The First Nations People of Japan The Ainu in their language call the Ezo Red Fox cironnup, sumari, kimotpe or hurep. The Ezo Red Foxes are master hunters; they mainly feed on rats, mounting hares, birds, and insects, and in the autumn, they enjoy eating fruit and nuts. The mother fox gives birth to their kits in the early spring, so by autumn, there is potential to see young adults recently broken away from their mothers and hunting independently for the first season. If you see a young adult or a full-grown Ezo Red Fox, you will marvel at their lustrous coat and witness the contrast of their fur and the stark whites and blacks of their surroundings. I have spent over 20 years leading Hokkaido photography workshops and tours and understands the foxes are beautiful. But I can not emphasize enough that these are wild animals, and we locals in Hokkaido are concerned that too many tourists are supplementary feeding them to get a snapshot. Also, humans' feeding brings other problems, such as the spread of echinococcosis infection of humans by Ezo Red Foxes. Another problem is the Ezo Red Foxes leave their home territories during tourist seasons seeking human handouts. A few years back, I recall international tourists stopping on a major roadway Hokkaido highway in winter. On both sides of the road, it had guard rails that their tour leader foolishly ignored safety, just to stop so he and his clients to take a snapshot of an Ezo Red Fox that got over-dependent on human feeding. This was a sad day as two semi-trucks came barreling down the road as they do, both from opposite directions, and there was not enough clearance for the two semi-trucks to pass the parked vehicles that the tourists were seated in and a few outside; several tourists were crushed, just to take a snapshot. Two years ago, I was incensed because a new staff member listened to my co-leader, an American based out of Indianapolis, and stooped between two guard rails on a major roadway so they could allow clients in their vehicle to capture an image of an Ezo Red Fox. I had spotted the fox, but I kept on going, as it was not safe, and I could tell this fox was only looking for handouts. Images of the prior disaster ran through my head, so I quickly turned my SUV around, stopped just before the guard rails, and jumped out quickly walked over to them and told everyone to either walk 10 meters down the road to a safe location or get in the SUV and I ordered my staff to move fast. I gave them no time to think or say anything in reply. It was a moment of pure instinct and survival for my clients. To make sure the Ezo Red Fox wouldn’t stick around for photos, I quickly crafted a snowball and hurled it at the fox to move, but it was so dependent on human handouts that he hardly stirred, and I made sure no one offered it any handouts. When everyone was in a safe location, I gave the clients a couple of minutes to take their photos before I explained everything to my co-leader, my staff member, and clients what had happened in a very similar situation, and safe to say; there were no more unexpected stops on any major roadway to capture photos of any of Hokkaido’s wildlife or landscapes after this incident unless I deemed it safe.
The image for this newsletter is of a 100% wild, non-human handout dependent Ezo Red Fox that was out hunting in the Shiretoko Peninsula; UNESCO designated the area a World Heritage Site which is located in the North-East of Hokkaido and is a wildlife protection area in the Shiretoko Nation Park with which I am associated. The word "Shiretoko" is derived from the Ainu word "sir etok," meaning "the place where the earth protrudes."