Fennec foxes join Lyon menagerie
CHEWY IS A 5-month-old fennec fox.
Lynette Lyon knows what it’s like to be a new mom, to triplets, no less – although she has never had a child herself.
She has, however, raised three fennec foxes from the time they were just hours old – Blue, Kiwi and Chewy. It began with round-the-clock feedings every two-to-three hours – meaning many long, sleepless nights. The tiny foxes, which weighed only a few grams at birth, had to be tube fed, a delicate process in which a thin tube is inserted into the stomach through the mouth.
“I’ve become an expert in tube feedings, it’s kind of become my specialty,” Lyon said.
The foxes were born at Safari West, a wild animal preserve outside Santa Rosa. Lyon made a deal with the park to hand-raise the creatures, gentling them into foxes that can be handled and used in animal education. In exchange for the months of work, she would get to keep one to use in her growing pack of ambassador animals.
She picked the girl, Kiwi, initially thinking the two brothers, Blue and Chewy, would return to Safari West. But, as can sometimes happen in captivity, the father fox attacked Chewy moments after birth, damaging his skull. His survival was unlikely. But Lyon was undeterred, and spent additional hours working with Chewy, who needed special care to keep up with his brother and sister’s development. And eventually, he turned a corner.
“He’s just fine now,” she said, as the ball of fur and ears that is Chewy gnawed on a leather glove in her lap before darting up to chase Kiwi.
But, Chewy will still require additional care, so officials at Safari West agreed he would be better off with Lynette and Kiwi at Lyon Ranch. Blue has returned to Santa Rosa, but at nearly 5 months old, Kiwi and Chewy are happily settling into their life in Sonoma.
Lyon will incorporate the animals into her work as an animal educator at the Petaluma-based Classroom Safari, which brings exotic animals into classrooms, and to private events such as birthday parties, to teach children and let them get a close-up look at the creatures. She will also use them in her family’s work at Lyon Ranch, which takes therapy animals – such as their well-loved camels – into hospitals and nursing homes to bring cheer to those in need.
“There was this 5-year-old boy who was on chemo, and (Kiwi) just curled up in his lap and fell asleep,” Lyon said of a recent visit to the John Muir Medical Center.
A native of Northern Africa, fennec foxes make their home in the sands of the Sahara. The small fox, which usually weighs between 1.5 and 3.5 pounds, is uniquely designed to handle a harsh climate. Fur protrudes through the pads of its feet to protect it from the hot sand. Its unusually large ears, ranging from 4 to 6 inches across, not only protect the animal by dissipating heat, but also provide a unique tool for hunting the barren land.
“They can hear a mouse’s heartbeat up to two feet under the ground,” Lyon said.
But the only thing Kiwi and Chewy hunt is that leather glove, which they fight over just like any two siblings (see video with this article at sonomanews.com). They have their own pen in the living room, where the Lyon family has all but given up television in favor of watching the foxes play.
Kiwi and Chewy are in good company at Lyon Ranch, home to three camels, Hump-Free, Raja and Keesa; a serval named Zeus, Galindo the Geoffroy’s cat, a “zee-donk,” an alligator and dozens of other hoofed and feathered creatures. Lyon has no plans to stop expanding her menagerie, and is currently working to bring in Mexican bats and an Australian wombat.
Lyon is also working to expand her business by partnering with her former employer Six Flags Discovery Kingdom to offer educational programs highlighting the rare animals housed at the Vallejo-based theme park.