By Marc Bekoff
I am incredibly fortunate to live in such beautiful environs as the Mountains of Colorado. But living here can have its "down-side," especially when confronting such majestic beasts as mountain lions or bears. I've had some very close encounters with mountain lions, almost falling over a huge male as I walked backwards to warn some neighbors of the lion's presence
Recently I met another lion and discovered much about nature, although I've been studying coyotes and other animals for many years. There's so much we don't know!
Late on the evening of Friday, February 9, I was driving up my road and saw a large tan animal trotting down towards my car. Thinking it was my neighbor's German shepherd, Lolo, I stopped and got out of my car to say hello, only to hear Lolo barking behind me and at the same to come face-to-face with a male mountain lion. He stared at me, seemed to shrug his shoulders, and walked off - silly human. I jumped back into my car, went home, and walked to my house with all my senses on fire.
The next morning my neighbor told me that Lolo had found a fox carcass so I went to look at it. The fox, a formerly very healthy male, had clearly been killed by the lion. His body was intact and partially covered with branches, dirt, and some of the fox's own fur. It looked as if the lion had tried to cover his prey. I checked the carcass the next morning and it was still partially covered and unchanged from the day before.
Two days later I headed out to hike with my companion, Jethro, having waited until there was some light. No more surprises for me! I looked down the road and saw a small red female fox trying to cover the carcass. I was fascinated for she was deliberately orienting her body so that when she kicked debris with her hindlegs it would cover her friend, perhaps her mate. (There's been a family of foxes near my house for almost a decade and I assume that she was related to, or at least a close friend of, the deceased.) She'd kick dirt, stop, look at the carcass, and intentionally kick again. I observed this "ritual" for about 20 seconds. A few hours later I went to see the carcass and indeed it was now totally buried.
No one to whom I have spoken, naturalists and professional biologists alike, has ever seen a red fox bury another red fox. I don't know if the female fox was intentionally trying to bury her friend, but there's no reason to assume that she wasn't. Perhaps she was grieving and I was observing a fox funeral. I have no doubt that foxes and other animals have rich and deep emotional lives.
I was lucky to have this series of encounters for nature doesn't hold court at our convenience. Much happens in the complex lives of our animal kin to which we're not privy, but when we're fortunate to see animals at work, how splendid it is. Viva natural history!