By Matt Dolkas,
Content Marketing Manager

Friends, meet Bill Leikam (better known as “The Fox Guy”).

Bill is a retired teacher, businessman, citizen scientist and a lifelong Californian naturalist. Six years ago, Bill had an experience near the Palo Alto Baylands that changed the course of his life forever. He was out photographing birds, orioles in particular, when a gray fox appeared on the trail some 20 feet ahead of him.

It startled Bill. He didn’t expected to see one so close to the urban landscape. The fox seemed fearless, allowing him to get close before casually walking off into the bushes.

It sparked his curiosity and that’s what started it.

Over the past six years, Bill has been working to document the behavior, relationships and health of gray fox in the Bay Area. Every day, twice a day, he’s out with the foxes, checking his network of trail cameras, observing and learning the life of the gray fox.

For Bill, this isn’t just a hobby, it’s his life.

With time, he’s found the answers to his initial questions. In fact, Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, the California Director for the National Wildlife Federation, in her book When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors dubbed him “the Jane Goodall of the gray fox world”.  

It’s a fair comparison too considering the depth he’s brought to our understanding of this animal. He’s observed communal pup raising, family feuds and even seen tree hunting behavior.

He’s also been a witness to incest among the foxes. It’s not a great surprise, given that some of these foxes are stranded on an island of habitat surrounded by a sea of urban landscape. Without the ability to move freely to other territory, some fox are pinned in at the baylands in what appears to be a fairly shallow genetic pool.

In 2012, Bill teamed up with naturalist and photographer Greg Kerekes to expand their work from foxes to urban wildlife. The two formed the nonprofit Urban Wildlife Research Project and are fundraising to support their work. They’re focused on documenting the genetic health of gray fox and mapping how and where these animals disperse across the region.

And it’s not just for the benefit of gray fox, but for all wildlife that depend on these corridors and the freedom of our open spaces.

It was refreshing to meet someone like Bill, committed to something bigger than himself and so in-tune with the wild life of gray fox.

                         

Watch more Minute with Matt videos here!

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About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects and cares for open space, farms and parkland in and around Silicon Valley. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 75,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties.

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