“It’s very rare”: the story of the Chilote fox that wanted to eat a pudú

Just that day, Juan Pablo Márquez (29) had taken his camera to Tepuhueico Park, 45 km south of Castro, on Chiloé Island, where he worked as a tour guide in a hotel in that private sector. It was Wednesday, April 13, 2022. The sun was shining.

He was with a colleague and four passengers, who were the first to notice an unexpected scene, while he was in the car that would take them to the trek: a Chilote fox (Lycalopex fulvipes) —or Darwin— was lying on the grass and, apparently, basking in the sun. While, at a certain distance, a pudú (Pudu Puda), the second smallest deer in the world, was looking at him from the depths of a stream.

Who knows how they got there.

The group of tourists was against time, so they continued on their way, while Juan Pablo stayed taking photos of both animals, which are considered in danger of extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The park was almost empty, he tells La Cuarta, so there was “less intervention for the fox and the pudú.”

The fox tries to approach the deer. PHOTO: Juan Pablo Marquez

From a bridge that crossed the creek, he stayed as the only witness for about five hours, from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., near the entrance of the park that faces the Pacific coast. He stayed there for the entire duration of the tour.

“How nice how these two species can share a place,” he thought, because this little fox is mostly carnivorous.

He kept taking photos.

a tricky scene

Long minutes passed and the observer noticed that the pudú was pulling in the middle of the water and that, in addition, it had blood on its snout. “At that moment I understood the true intention of the fox,” he says.

Sure, the deer wanted to get out of the water and run for its life. But every time he got close to the shore, the fox would lunge forward and start biting at his legs and mouth, and the potential prey would elude him again and again, then retreat back into the deep end.

The little deer was cornered: to one side the meander of the river; to the other, the predator.

Fox approaches the pudú.  PHOTO: Juan Pablo Marquez
Fox approaches the pudú. PHOTO: Juan Pablo Marquez

All this was happening while the man was recording and photographing a scene that had been almost forbidden to human eyes until that moment. The pudú tried several times to escape, but when the shot was fired the other one approached him. As the persecuted had longer legs, unlike the little fox that was rather short-legged, he had a precarious refuge in the depths of the water. “I wasn’t comfortable,” he recalls of the fox. “He always tried to be comfortable to attack him.”

As the hours passed, already exhausted and cold, the pudú had no choice but to leave the stream towards the predator’s teeth, which “more aggressively began to tear the skin of one of its front legs.”

Faced with this, “I decided to stop looking and left, there was nothing to do,” he says. “Nature took its course.” She preferred not to know (or see) the outcome… at least at that time.

No element of type reference found.

the least popular

Darwin’s fox belongs to the large carnivorous family of canids, including wolves, dogs, jackals and dingoes. To be more precise, it is part of the Vulpine tribe, like its Culpeo relatives (Lycalopex culpaeus) and shrieks —or gray— (Lycalopex griseus), being the smallest of these three and the only one that only lives on Chilean soil, that is, it is endemic.

The species owes its name to the fact that it was first described in 1834 by the mythical naturalist Charles Darwin —who went down in history for his theory of evolution—, after traveling for three years from Tierra del Fuego to Copiapó.

With an elongated, robust and short-legged body, this animal can measure between 52 and 67 centimeters, and weigh a maximum of 4 kilos, according to biologist Agustín Iriarte in his Guide to Mammals of Chile (Centro UC). It stands out for the reddish colors of its ears and legs, and the white patch on its snout and chest.

Chilote fox with a defiant look.  PHOTO: Enrique Couve
Chilote fox with a defiant look. PHOTO: Enrique Couve

They live in the Nahuelbuta mountain range (BioBío Region), San José de Mariquina (Los Ríos) and the Isla Grande de Chiloé, which concentrates the bulk of the population, something like half of the total.

In the last decade, since 2013, within this entire southern extension of the country “three populations have been identified that were not previously part of the fox’s distribution”, such as in La Araucanía and in the coastal area of ​​Valdivia, he explains. to Ezequiel Hidalgo, Director of Conservation and Research at the Buin Zoo, who is in charge of the Saving Darwin’s Fox project.

Hidalgo says that among the main threats to this solitary species are feral dogs, which can kill it and transmit diseases such as distemper. Then, another “super important” factor is the destruction of its habitat, despite the fact that it has had to adapt to spaces surrounded by agriculture and livestock.

Also, another cause is the hunting that occurs “in some parts”, since it can be a problem for domestic animals such as chickens.

Another “new” factor has to do with abuses, he adds to La Cuarta, to the point that “we have detected one or two a year in Chiloé.” For example, in March 2022, the Movimiento Defendamos Chiloé reported that one of these animals died after an accident on the road between Huillinco and Cucao.

Chilote fox after hunting a rodent.  PHOTO: Cristian Larrere (@cristianlarrere)
Chilote fox after hunting a rodent. PHOTO: Cristian Larrere (@cristianlarrere)

Because it’s weird”?

“It’s like the first video you get of a fox hunting a pudú,” says Juan Pablo Márquez, a witness to the scene, despite the fact that “it has been heard from locals that they had commented that the foxes attacked the pudú, but not there were records.

Along with this, he thinks that those images “have been important to be able to carry out studies related to Chilote foxes”.

“They are two native species, there is no need to intervene and the person who saw that moment was super lucky”, because this deer is not usually on their menu, declared Carola Valencia, in charge of the USS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, a few months ago. to Channel 5 of Puerto Montt.

Chilote fox at night.  PHOTO: Sergio Bitrán (2011)
Chilote fox at night. PHOTO: Sergio Bitrán (2011)

As for the relevance of the video to learn about the behavior of this fox, “I don’t think (it has) much of it,” Javier Cabello, director of the Chiloé Silvestre Conservation Center, told La Cuarta, “because it has been known for a long time that the pudú is in the diet of foxes”, so “what is most impressive is the fact of being right at the moment”.

The conservationist Ezequiel Hidalgo points out that, with the video, “many people met Darwin’s fox”, since this canid “has a very limited population” compared to its culpeo and gray relatives.

“Before our studies, populations were thought to be 250 adults,” he says, so it was considered “very, very threatened,” but now populations are estimated to be “a little larger,” and it is estimated that there are between 600 and a thousand individuals of calving age.

Chilote fox with her cub.  PHOTO: rescued from ProAraucanía (no credits, 2013)
Chilote fox with her cub. PHOTO: rescued from ProAraucanía (no credits, 2013)

Regarding the video at an ecological level, “it is important to highlight that this situation is very rare,” declares Hidalgo, who also works in the conservation of the pudú. In his records, “there is only one report of a pudú admitted to a rescue center due to an attack by a fox, which was in Chiloé,” and it is not the same as the one recorded by Márquez.

“It is a situation that can occur, but it is quite rare,” he insists. “It’s not that Darwin’s foxes are hunting pudú all the time, or that it’s essential in their diet.” This is because it is a fairly small carnivore, while this deer can weigh 8 or 10 kilos, almost twice as much. “It’s obviously not easy prey,” he says. In reality, their food is based on rodents, birds, reptiles and one or another wild fruit.

“It can happen, yes,” he sentences. “But let it be common, no.”

Being a fairly large prey, “it is more sporadic”, remarks Javier Cabello, “because the fox is rather opportunistic, that is, it will eat whatever it finds on the way”, so this deer is difficult unless is sick or is a baby.

More than once “country people” have described to the director of Chiloé Silvestre that the foxes chase the pudú towards the river or sea so that they are exhausted. “Once he gets tired, they bite him on the legs until the animal can’t continue, as a kind of strategy”, very similar to the situation shown in the viralized video.

Darwin's fox among the leaves.  PHOTO: Richard Wolf (2015)
Darwin’s fox among the leaves. PHOTO: Richard Wolf (2015)

On another edge, “we have seen how the mortality of the pudú has increased exponentially, by 300%,” says the Buin Zoo expert. “Within that context, the dogs are the important ones, not the foxes.” His opinion coincides with that given by the veterinarian Carola Valencia, regarding this same case: “Especially in Chiloé, 90% or more of the pudúes that arrive at the rehabilitation centers are due to dog attacks.”

In fact, Hidalgo concludes, “it is more likely” that such a scene “happens with a culpeo fox (weighs between 10 and 12 kilos), in other parts of Chile, but there is simply no recording that has gone viral.”

The day after the fox-pudú scene, on April 14, Juan Pablo returned to the hunting ground: “And he had eaten it,” he says, at least a good part of it, perhaps helped by some lucky jote.

Chilote fox sitting.  PHOTO: rescued from Pousta (no credits, 2017)
Chilote fox sitting. PHOTO: rescued from Pousta (no credits, 2017)

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“It’s very rare”: the story of the Chilote fox that wanted to eat a pudú

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