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8 Ballona Foxes to Be Sent to Research Project : Wildlife: The animals will become part of a Humboldt State University program that studies their habits and behavior. Two others will go to a Nevada zoo.


PLAYA DEL REY — It looks as though some of the Ballona Wetlands foxes, the furry creatures at the center of conflict between animal rights activists and mainstream environmentalists, are college bound.

Developer Maguire Thomas Partners announced plans this week to relocate eight red foxes to Humboldt State University's Wildlife Management Department, where the Eastern red foxes will live in 500-square-foot earthen- floor compounds replete with built-in dens.

The Ballona foxes will join three red foxes from Seal Beach in a non-invasive behavioral research program started in 1989 to teach students at the university--which is located in Arcata--about food patterns, social behavior, and energy intake and output of the fox.

Two other foxes will go to a zoo in Carson City, Nev.

Maguire Thomas, the development company that plans to restore and preserve the wetlands as it builds the vast Playa Vista commercial and residential project nearby, received permits to move the 10 foxes last week. The permits were the first relocation permits granted to the company during more than two years of efforts to move the animals.

Removal of the foxes, believed to number about 16, is one of the first steps toward restoring the wetland. The foxes, which are not native to the wetland, prey on several rare bird species, including the Belding's savannah sparrow and the least tern.

Nelson C. Rising, Maguire Thomas senior partner in charge of the Playa Vista project, said he is pleased that a home has been found for most of the foxes.

"We are relieved that at least 10 foxes can be relocated properly and be accommodated in Carson City and Humboldt and that we can stop the killing of birds and other wildlife in the wetland," he said. "We are continuing to look for solutions for the other foxes."

Maguire Thomas' success followed by a week a failed attempt by animal rights activists to find the foxes a home in Texas, where state authorities denied permission to import the animals. The activists, who have been vigorously protesting the state-approved trapping since July 20, oppose Maguire Thomas' move to send the foxes to Humboldt, saying the state of Indiana agreed this week to release all the foxes into a wildlife refuge.

Bill Dyer, a member of Last Chance for Animals and a frequent protester at Ballona Wetlands in the last month, said: "We would prefer they be released into the wild in Indiana because that seems to be the best situation for them."

Rising said of the animal rights activists' reaction: "It's ironic that some of the activists are objecting to the Humboldt solution, since two weeks ago they were proposing a solution in Texas," where he said the living environment for the foxes was considerably less attractive than what Humboldt State is offering.

After the 10 animals are sent to Humboldt State and Carson City, Rising said, he would be pleased to find a home in Indiana for any foxes that remain, but he was skeptical about the animal rights activists' assertion that Indiana will accept the foxes. "It's deja vu all over again," he said, alluding to the earlier experience with Texas.

Rising said his company inquired in 1990 about the possibility of sending the foxes to Indiana and was told by the state's Fish and Wildlife officials that the animals were not wanted.

The wildlife management program at Humboldt State is run by Richard T. Golightly, a wildlife professor who has studied the habits of the red fox in several Southern California locations, including Newport Bay, Seal Beach and Anaheim.

"This looks like it will be mutually beneficial," Golightly said. "The facility is a state-run facility, federally inspected, and houses several wildlife species for non-invasive research and teaching of students that we like to think are America's future wildlife experts. The foxes are social animals and will be housed in groups depending on the character of the animals we get."

In answer to some animal rights activists' concerns about potential for the foxes to eventually be turned over to invasive research facilities, Golightly said: "Our agreement with Maguire Thomas and Fish and Game is that we would not turn the animals over to any other facility. We have a policy here not to terminate animals because they have lost their usefulness. And in all the years I have been here, the only times we have shipped our animals on, it has been to zoos."

Rising said that trapping was renewed Monday after a monthlong suspension, resulting in the capture of three foxes who are receiving exams by veterinarians before they are sent to their new home. There is a possibility that the foxes will be neutered, a precaution required by the Department of Fish and Game to protect against possible escapee foxes reproducing in a huge wildlife reserve next to Humboldt State. Maguire Thomas is footing the bill for all veterinary and shipping costs.

After the 10 foxes are on their way, as many as six others may remain, Rising said. He added that the company will continue to seek homes for whatever foxes remain.

Three foxes were captured and killed in July by a private trapping company hired by Maguire Thomas. At least three others have been found dead in the road in the last month, apparently hit by cars, Rising said.

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