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Leikam points out one of his cameras on the side of an animal trail, set up to catch the foxes in their habitat. The Reconix/Ultrafire is a designated night-vision camera that costs upward of $700. But the pictures he's caught, including one of a mother in labor, are well worth it.
The road straightens out and heads due south, a long line disappearing into the Santa Cruz mountains in the distance. Leikam stops and points down the empty road.
"This is the main artery of the natural corridor," he says.
Unlike the vast amount of space and broader connectivity that the Yellowstone wolves need, the urban gray foxes can survive using a narrow corridor to the Santa Cruz Mountains, where they'll head in October during a "dispersal" that prevents inbreeding and keeps the gene pool broad, deep and healthy. Leikam hopes to raise several thousand dollars for DNA testing, and there are also plans for radio-collaring the foxes to determine exactly how far they travel.
It's time to head back, and every step is a hard exit from this strange, ignored world. We pass something on the ground, and I ask Leikam what it is.
"It's fox scat," he replies.
Pen and notebook in hand, I wait for some scientific analysis. What gave it away? Duck feathers? Squirrel fur? Dorito crumbs?
He looked at the scat for a moment, then me for a moment longer. "I saw Gray drop that this morning," he says.
It's then that I realize what's important to Bill Leikam. He doesn't want people to know the plain facts about the gray foxes, which are available on Wikipedia. He wants us to believe in the world of the foxes, a belief that will probably rely more on compassion than on science. The tourists who picked up that Yellowstone bison calf had compassion, which is the one aspect of that stunt which should not be ridiculed.
We pass by the den once more, and Leikam adds to his collection of fox pup pictures. He'll be back again tomorrow, bright and early, hoping that fifth pup and its mother has returned.