Shortly before dusk Sunday, three half-year-old gray foxes stepped tentatively from a plastic carrier and trotted down a fire road into the Moraga wilds.
After semi-orphan status and injury, the three were raised in their early months by the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek. They were released Sunday on East Bay Municipal Utility District land overlooking Canyon Road in Moraga, with prey nearby and berries and grains to eat, along with water in marshy areas near San Leandro Reservoir.
On hand for the release were volunteers and staff from Lindsay, and about 20 Lindsay donors and two families — one from Moraga and one from Walnut Creek — that had brought the weeks-old kits to the museum in the spring.
On April 21, 5-year-old Isabel Zabronsky saw a two-week-old black-furred fox in the back yard of their home on Corliss Drive, Moraga. "I thought it was a rat," she said. "I heard it squeak. Then I called Mommy and Daddy."
The kit had come out looking for food. The family then discovered it had two hungry brothers in a den wedged between the foundation and the siding of their house. "They were whining, hungry," said Isabel's dad, Andy Zabronsky.
It may be that the mother built a den there during a multi-day rainstorm, thinking it was a quiet place; then, when the sun came out and children were out playing in the yard again, the mother may have been rattled by the noise in the neighborhood, said Zabronsky.
A third fox from the Zabronsky group was supposed to be released Sunday evening, but Lindsay staff decided to wait because that one seemed to be too habituated to humans and perhaps not ready for the rigors of the wilderness, said Jean Yim, the museum's wildlife rehabilitation supervisor.
The kits spent five weeks with Lindsay volunteer Kathy Jones of Benicia in her wildlife-friendly home in Benicia. She fed them bottles when their eyes were still closed. As their eyes open, Jones covered them when she fed them so they wouldn't habituate themselves to humans. She weaned them onto formula and then soft dog food and dead mice.
The foxes then spent time at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley in San Jose. It has an enclosure designed for foxes to learn how to hunt, Yim said.
Foxes in the wild normally go out on their own to hunt at age 6 months, Yim said. The three found in Moraga are 6 1/2-month-olds. They were released at dusk as foxes are nocturnal.
In the spring, the Caldwell family of Rachele Road, Walnut Creek — several blocks from the Lindsay museum — found a limping 10-week-old fox in its back yard when alerted by its dog Juicy, said Jay Caldwell. The family took the injured fox to Lindsay; Caldwell attended Sunday's release with daughter Avery and wife Denise. The mother fox in the spring kept coming around looking for the kid. Today she is a regular visitor around the neighborhood, Caldwell said.
That kit had soft tissue injury — no breaks — and is healthy now, Yim said.
On Sunday evening in Moraga, the first fox trotted out about three minutes after Kathy Jones opened the door of the carrier. The fox sauntered down the fire trail and disappeared around a bend in the trail 80 yards away, out of sight of the humans.
The other two were not so adventurous. They came out more than 10 minutes later after Jones unhitched the top and tapped on the carrier. The first went 50 yards down the trail and then waited in the brush at the side of the trail. A few minutes, the last fox — perhaps its brother — trotted down the trail. The second one emerged from the brush and they went off down the road together.