Strange Things

The red fox is usually a wary creature, unwilling to let humans get too close. Our experience proves that the foxes set the rules on this though and a good meal may outweigh cautiousness.

After suffering through a few computer viruses from clicking on seemingly harmless stories, I am pretty cautious about what I choose to view on the internet. I took a chance though on an email with a link to some photos of an African lioness doing something very interesting. This young lioness was gently caring for an almost newborn fawn of undetermined species.

I scrolled through a number of different images of the lioness carrying the fawn, setting it down and gently licking it and could spot no digital tomfoolery. The captions for the photo wondered if this was simply meal preparation or if this lioness was adopting the fawn. The skeptical biologist in me was leaning toward the former. Then the story continued showing photos of many other instances, with lions and with other species, where predators of many types have “adopted” prey species almost like pets or surrogate offspring.

This behavior is seemingly bizarre. There is a line of reasoning that says that animals don’t really think or have feelings and only react out of instinct. Given that, it would be hard to imagine that the mothering instinct could override the more immediate survival-bound instinct to kill and eat.

What I think it says is that in nature, animal behavior has much wider parameters than we often give credit for. My son, grandsons and I had an experience while deer hunting that seems to bear this out.

High up on a ridge near Anderson Ranch Reservoir, my grandson, Logan, made a terrific shot and killed his first deer in the final half hour of shooting light. By the time we hiked over to the deer, it was getting dark. We took a few photos and then, by flashlight, set to teaching Logan how to field dress a deer. Once the entrails were on the ground, we occupied ourselves with figuring out how to hang the deer so predators wouldn’t feast on it and we scrambled through packs to find enough rope to do the job.

While we were engaged in this endeavor, we detected movement at the pile of entrails, literally just a few feet away. Four flashlight beams converged and pinned a red fox in the glare. I thought for sure that this would frighten the fox away for good. But the fox stood its ground, snagged a piece of the fresh meat and trotted off. With all the commotion we were making, certainly that was the last we would see of that fox.

In a few minutes though, the fox was back for another piece of venison. We paused from our attempts to hang the deer and watched it in our flashlight beams from about ten feet away. Once again, it took its time to grab a piece of deer and then disappeared into the brush. Despite flashlights, camera flashes, human voices and a bucket full of human scent, this scene kept repeating itself for almost half an hour until we had the deer off the ground and were heading out.

I was amazed that this fox, normally a skittish creature, would repeatedly come within ten feet of us for the chance to score a meal. It proved to me the foolishness of trying to put animal behavior, or even nature, in a box. The more ardently we observe behavior and nature, the more common the uncommon becomes. 

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho