Behind the Scenes: Tokala the Fox
November 14, 2012
By Michelle Chikaonda
Some pets are definitely better than others. Cats are wonderful; lion cubs, on the other hand, might not be so friendly after a while. Garden snakes can be a lot of fun; a Burmese python, however, is probably a bad idea. And dogs are man’s best friend; but if you traded your dog for a fox, you might come to regret it. Many people want unusual animals as pets, but animals taken from the wild remain wild regardless of where they live. By the time people realize that they can no longer manage their exotic pets it is too late to return them to the wild. Many people decide to release unwanted pets into whichever field or forest is nearest, leaving these animals to fend for themselves in a wilderness they have never known.
In fall 2004, the Academy received one such animal. Tokala, a red fox, was discovered wandering the streets of New Jersey, severely underweight and wearing a harness. Red foxes are common throughout North America. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, a legal permit is required to own or breed them. When no one in New Jersey was found to be in possession of a permit for a red fox, Tokala was handed over to the Mercer County Wildlife Center.
Tokala’s high level of socialization to humans, as well as the harness she was wearing when found, indicated that Tokala had most likely been a former house pet who had either escaped or had been released into the wild after becoming too difficult to maintain. Academy naturalists suspect that Tokala was bred in captivity because she has leucism, a genetic condition in which an animal has almost no melanin (brown, red, or yellow pigment) in its fur. This means that although Tokala has white fur, she is actually a member of the species of red fox known as Vulpes vulpes. While this genetic condition is rare, it is often bred for in exotic pets such as foxes. The Mercer County Wildlife Center gave Tokala to the Academy of Natural Sciences, and she has been here ever since.
Tokala, whose name comes from the Native American Dakota word for “fox,” is one of the most intriguing animals in residence at the Academy. Red foxes are nocturnal and crepuscular, which means they are awake at night and at dusk and dawn. They are also omnivores, and Tokala is fed a diet of mice, fruit, vegetables, and leafy greens. She is one of the most highly trained animals at the Academy. She has regular training time throughout the week with Live Animal Center keepers and Teacher Naturalists, who use positive enforcement to encourage Tokala to respond to commands. If you watch her during a live animal show you’ll see her being rewarded with treats for following commands. In order to maintain her high level of training, the Academy’s keeper staff and teacher naturalists must also spend regular socialization time with Tokala. These sessions are very important to her and our staff so that the interactions remain positive through work and play.
You may see Tokala in her enclosure at the Academy’s Live Animal Center every day. In fact, November is a great month to visit because we’re celebrating A Living Exhibit: Live Animal Month! On Thursdays through Mondays at 2 p.m., visitors ages 8 and up can accompany us on a tour of the Live Animal Center to meet our live animals ($5 for members, $7.50 for nonmembers; purchase tickets at front desk on day of tour). You’ll see birds, tortoises, skunks, lizards, and more! Plus, join us for Live Animal Discovery Weekend on November 23–25 to meet an Academy keeper, see how we train live animals for educational programs, and make and take a craft that shows what is needed for keeping live animals safe and happy.
On some days, Tokala is one of the featured animals in the Live Animal Show. The show takes place every day at 2:30 p.m. throughout the museum (listen for announcements), and on weekends there is an additional show at 11:00 a.m. Tokala is one among many unique animals that call the Academy’s Live Animal Center home. Stop by to visit her and her friends on your next Academy visit!
Photo by Paul Jamrogowicz, Drexel University