Release of Casualty Vulpes vulpes - Red Fox (Wildlife Casualty Management)

Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management / Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B. This information should be read in association with Wildlife Casualty Release which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species: Vulpes vulpes - Red fox


  • No pre-release preparation is required if these animals have been in care for a short period of time.

  • If release of a cub at a new site (i.e. not where it has been raised) is necessary, the cub must be kept at the intended release site for one to two weeks pre-release.(D22)

Release assessment/criteria:

  • Released mammals:

    • Must be able to recognise, catch, manipulate, consume and digest their natural diet.
    • Must be capable of normal locomotion (movement) and have sufficient fitness for sustained activity.
    • Must have adequate sensory ability (sight, smell, hearing, touch).
    • Must be of an appropriate weight for the age, sex, and time of year. 
    • Must have a satisfactory hair coat.
    • Must show appropriate wariness of humans and domestic animals.
    • (P19.1.w10, P24.233.w11, J35.147.w1, D27)
  • Appropriate health checks should be carried out prior to release. A careful assessment (risk analysis) must be made as to the risks of released animals introducing novel pathogens (disease agents) into the wild population/environment.
    • These pathogens may have been acquired from domestic animals, other wildlife casualties or humans whilst the animal was in captivity.
    • The health checks should be designed to minimise the risk that pathogens posing a threat to wild populations of this or other species will be introduced into the environment when the animal is released.
    • (V.w5, V.w6, P28.2000.w1, J15.20.w3)
  • Tame, blind and toothless foxes are not suitable for release.(B151)

Selecting a release site:

  • Release exactly where found if known or at the nearest safe point, otherwise in a suitable area close to the origin.(B151, D24, D27)
  • It is preferable to release a cub from the site where it has been raised.(D22)
  • Consider releasing in a safer site if a fox originated from e.g. an area with gamekeepers. (B151)
  • Knowledge of the proposed release area, including local hunt activity and of fox natural history and ecology is important to determine if the site is suitable. (D24)

Timing of release:

  • Release adults at dusk.(D24)

Type of release:

Hard release:

  • Release the fox back into its own territory at dusk.(D24, B151)

Soft release:

  • Keep for a few weeks in a release pen with a shelter.
  • A pen of about 30 feet by ten feet may be used for soft release of three or four cubs.
  • Cubs should be placed in the release pen at about six weeks old.
  • This must be fully enclosed (wired over) to prevent the occupants climbing out and wired over the base or wire buried a reasonable distance into the ground to prevent digging out. It should contain an artificial earth and natural cover. (See: Accommodation of Casualty Vulpes vulpes Red Fox).
  • After a period in the pen, leave the door open allowing the occupant(s) to come and go.
  • Supply back-up food and water after release.
  • (B151, V.w26, V.w27)
  • Soft release is essential for hand reared cubs: (D22)

    • Release from the rearing site:
    • This may be used when a cub has been reared in an area which will provide the cub with a reasonable chance of survival: e.g. a rural yard or a large garden on the edge of an urban area, with few roaming dogs, no nearby shooting/snaring. 
    • Release is started by leaving the door open in the evening from about mid July to allow free exit and entry; provide food at the time when the door is opened
    • The cub is thereby allowed to begin exploring from its shed/pen.
    • Provision of food in the shed/pen must be continued as long as it is being taken by the cub.
    • The quantity of food provided may be reduced gradually to encourage the cub to forage by itself.
    • (D22)
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Soft release is particularly important for hand reared animals, particularly of species which need to learn about their surroundings (e.g. food sources) and/or learn survival skills such as hunting.
  • Soft release is also suitable for animals which have been in care for prolonged periods.
  • Soft release may be used to relocate a fox which was found in an "unsafe" area (e.g. an area with active gamekeepers) into a "safer" area such as the outskirts of a large town/city known to have a fox population.(B151)
  • Soft release may compensate for difficulties of newly released animals finding food and shelter, particularly in a new environment and/or at a time of reduced physical fitness/stamina.
  • Hard release is most appropriate for animals which have been held in captivity for only a short time, for adult animals and for animals being released back into their own territory.
  • The individual animal must, at the the time of release, be healthy, have a reasonable level of fitness and be able to fend for itself in the wild.
  • Diurnal species should be released in the morning, giving them a full day to explore and look for food and shelter before nightfall.
  • Nocturnal species should be released at night.
  • Release should preferably take place during a period of fine weather.
  • Foxes are known to travel considerable distances to return to their own territory. (B151)
  • Consider marking/permanent identification e.g. with a microchip to allow data on survival/cause of death to be collected.(V.w5)
  • If possible, have a post mortem examination done if a hand-reared or rehabilitated animal is found dead, to determine the cause of death and body condition (e.g. whether a hand-reared individual had or had not been foraging successfully). (V.w5)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Hard release is least appropriate for juveniles which have been hand reared, particularly species for which learning about their environment and/or social skills are important.
  • Hard release may also be inappropriate for adults which have been maintained in captivity for prolonged periods and/or are being released at a site distant from their original location.
  • Tame, blind and toothless foxes are not suitable for release. (B151)
  • Territory may have been taken over if fox has been in captivity for even a few days. (D25)
  • Released animals may be at risk of contracting disease if there is an ongoing disease problem in the wild population at the time of release.
  • The wild population may be at risk from novel pathogens (disease agents) carried by a rehabilitated animal. These pathogens may pose the greatest threat to free-ranging populations if the animal is to be released at a site distant from its original location therefore increasing the likelihood of spread of disease. It is important to remember that the casualty wild animal may have acquired disease from domestic animals, other wildlife casualties or humans whilst in captivity. 
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Suitable transport container for hard release. See: Accommodation of Casualty Foxes
  • Suitable pre-release accommodation for soft release, e.g. a shed from which a cub is released, or a pen with an appropriate shelter.(D22, B151)
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Expertise may be required for construction of soft-release accommodation.
  • Knowledge of the proposed release area, including local hunt activity and of fox natural history and ecology is important to determine if the site is suitable. (D24)
Cost/ Availability
  • Soft release may involve a considerable time investment.
  • Soft release may be expensive in terms of construction of appropriate temporary accommodation at the release site.
  • Costs of appropriate health screening.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • The potential risks to the individual being released and to the wild population into which it is being released (also to domestic animals) must be considered before release is undertaken.
  • The potential risk to humans and pets from habituated/tame individuals must be considered.
  • Foxes should not be released at a site where the landowner/manager is unsympathetic to foxes.
  • Foxes should not be released in an area with known hazards from free-roaming dogs, shooting or snaring.
  • An offence may be committed under the Abandonment of Animals Act 1960 Section 1 if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). It is an offence under this Act for a person having control or charge of an animal to abandon it permanently or otherwise in circumstances likely to cause unnecessary suffering. This may include release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, unfit, not having learned to hunt, at the wrong time of year etc. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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