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Wildlife Safety Archived Discussion Room

Fairfax County, Virginia

Wildlife Safety

Recent reports of bears, foxes, beavers and raccoons in the county have been hitting the news, but is there a need to worry? Join wildlife management and health department specialists for an online chat Wednesday, July 22 at 11 a.m. to get your questions answered about rabies concerns, potential diseases, population control and more. Submit a question in advance or visit online July 22 to participate.

Katherine Edwards : Good Morning! I'm Katherine Edwards, Wildlife Management Specialist with the Fairfax County Police Department, Animal Services Division.

I'm here with Bryant Bullock, Rabies Program Manager, with the Fairfax County Health Department.

We are happy to chat with you today about wildlife concerns in Fairfax County. 

Ray C. : Has there been an increase in the number of rabid animals in Fairfax County?

Bryant Bullock : The number of rabid animals fluctuates between 40 and 60 rabid animals per year in Fairfax County.  In 2014, the total was 47. So far in 2015, we have had 31 positive animal cases.

Anonymous User : How concerned should we be about fox in our yards? We saw them more in the winter months and they would come right up to our sliding door. Also, we have seen more Hawks recently. How dangerous are they to people? (This is in falls church.)

Katherine Edwards : The mere presence of foxes in a neighborhood should not be cause for alarm. Foxes are very adaptable and are commonly seen through Fairfax County due to plentiful food and availability of habitat to make den sites. Foxes sometimes exhibit bold behavior which can be unnerving to people. Healthy foxes can easily be scared away by making loud noises such as clapping, yelling, or using noise-makers. If you believe a fox is acting erratically and may be sick or injured, please contact Animal Control at 703-691-2131.

Hawks are common in Fairfax County and should not be a concern around people. There have been cases of hawks taking chickens, birds at birdfeeders and very rare instances where hawks have been suspected of injuring small pets, such as rabbits or very small dogs but these have not been confirmed.

Anonymous User : My neighborhood is always concerned about rabid raccoons. Does our county have a rabies management program?

Bryant Bullock : Raccoons are the most commonly diagnosed rabid animal in Fairfax County and any raccoon that appears sick or acting unusual should be assumed rabid. Animal Services Division of the Police Department should be contacted to remove such animals from the environment. The county only tests animals for rabies when a person or domestic animal is potentially exposed to the deadly illness, so the animal may or may not be tested for rabies depending on what occurred. The Health Department works together with the Animal Services Division to track all potential human and animal rabies exposure to ensure that the public is safe. Both agencies perform outreach to veterinarians, doctors and the general public.

Anonymous : We had coyotes in our front yard the other day. We have Great Danes. If they go out, will the coyotes attack or retreat?

Katherine Edwards : Each situation is different and in most instances coyotes will flee. However, coyotes may become territorial and aggressive towards larger dogs, especially during the mating season or if pups are present or a den is nearby. Coyotes have also been known to take cats and occasionally small dogs.

If a coyote comes on to your property, keep a safe distance and act loud and large to scare it away. You can yell and wave your arms, use noise-makers (bang pots and pans, air horns), throw small objects, or turn the hose on them.

Make sure to supervise your pets when they are on your property and bring them in at night. Leash walking is best. Make sure to not leave any pet food outside and secure your trash to avoid attracting coyotes and other wildlife.

Anonymous User : What is the policy for bats that enter homes but do not come in contact with humans?

Bryant Bullock : The Animal Services Division with the Police Department should be contacted any time a bat is found within an occupied dwelling. The responding officer will perform an exposure assessment of all persons that occupy the dwelling and determine if a person or domestic animal is to be considered exposed. If there has been an exposure and the bat is available for testing, the bat would be tested for rabies. If there was not an exposure, the bat would be released outside the dwelling. Please keep in mind that contact with a bat is not necessary to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's criteria for a bat exposure. In some circumstances, sleeping in a room with a bat may be considered an exposure. The best thing to do is to contact Animal Services and let them make the determination.

Anonymous User : What are the animals most likely to have rabies in Fairfax? Do we know what percent have it? THX

Bryant Bullock : Raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, and stray cats are the animals that are most likely to carry rabies in Fairfax County. We know what the percentage is of the animals that we test, but we do not know what the percentage is within the general wildlife population because we do not randomly test animals. We only test the animals for which there was a potential exposure.

Anonymous User : There is a fox running around in my neighborhood with no fur on it's tail and it looks fairly skinny. I'm assuming it has sarcoptic mange. Is there anything that Animal Control can do?

Katherine Edwards : Mange is common in foxes in Fairfax County. Sarcoptic mange is caused by a mite that burrows into the skin of foxes and other wildlife. Common signs that may indicate mange include hair loss, weight loss and sores or cuts from scratching.  Foxes can recover on their own when low-level infections are present. More serious infections can be debilitating and result in death as the animals health is compromised.

Currently, there is no county-sponsored program for treatment of mange in wildlife in Fairfax County. If a sick animal is reported, the caller may be referred to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. If the health of the animal has deteriorated to the point it can't be recovered, Animal Control may humanely euthanize the animal. Some people have suggested treating foxes with food baited with ivermectin. This is unlawful unless approved by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Veterinarians and wildlife rehabilitators must have an approved permit to treat wildlife.

Anonymous User : I read an article that ticks are much more serious than just Lyme disease. They carry all sorts of nasty viruses. Are you seeing an evolution in what ticks carry?

Bryant Bullock : Ticks can transmit other illnesses than just Lyme disease. Advances in testing and clinical diagnosis is making it easier to identify these illnesses. Please visit our website at for more information on tick-borne diseases.

Wendy : I am very concerned about Lyme disease. Will controlling the deer population help control the spread of Lyme?

Katherine Edwards : Deer are considered to be the primary maintenance host for black-legged ticks but are not a competent reservoir for the Lyme disease agent. Reducing the deer population does reduce host availability and may decrease transport of ticks into areas where they are in closer proximity to pet and pets. However, the relationship between deer density and Lyme disease incidence is unclear and varies among scientific studies.

Jennifer : What signs would indicate an animal has rabies? We have foxes that come out in our yard during the day and don't know if that's normal.

Bryant Bullock : It is not unusual to see a fox out during the day and this should not be a cause for alarm. But if you see a fox or other animal showing the following signs that indicate a sick animal, contact the Animal Services Division at 703-691-2131.

Some signs would include:

staggering gait
oblivious to noise or nearby movement
excessive drooling
erratic wandering or circling
wet and matted hair on face
repeated high-pitch vocalization
self-mutilation, biting or snapping
unprovoked aggression

Randy : do parks provide any education about wildlife and tick issues? If you want to raise awareness then signage in parks would be helpful.

Katherine Edwards : The Fairfax County Health Department's Disease Carrying Insects Program provides education and outreach on tick identification, safety and tick-borne illnesses. This includes presentations, brochures, calendars, etc. I will need to contact the Fairfax County Park Authority on specific information provided in the parks.

Anonymous User : Are ticks still just a northeast issue? Is it getting worse?

Bryant Bullock : Lyme Disease is endemic in our area, which means it is present in a significant portion of the tick population. The best thing to do is to protect yourself when spending time outdoors: wear appropriate protective clothing, use repellent and do a tick check after coming inside.  The Health Department also provides a free tick identification service. For more information on ticks and tick-borne disease, visit

Anonymous User : What can County residents and staff learn from the conclusion of the second year of Fairfax City's non-lethal deer management study?

Katherine Edwards : After completion of the Fairfax City study's second year, White Buffalo, Inc. researchers reported sterilizing a total of 36 does, estimated at >90% of the city's female deer population since the beginning of the study. While sterilization methods have been found successful at reducing births this does not necessarily translate to over success in the reduction of the deer herd. At this time, it is too premature to comment on the success of the study in terms of herd reduction without additional population monitoring. Results of the study are expected in 2019 and should inform us about future decisions using non-lethal methods in Fairfax County.

The study has provided insight on non-lethal methods that may have implications for Fairfax County if this method is approved by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF). The study is providing valuable information in terms of methodology, costs, and workload of personnel. These factors will contribute to our understanding of whether sterilization could realistically be applied to larger jurisdictions, such as Fairfax County.

Fairfax County will continue monitor the study results and investigate non-lethal options for deer population reduction to diversify our methods as they become available. These non-lethal methods are currently only approved by the DGIF for scientific study and not approved for use in VA as a management tool.

Dennis Savage : I have a neighbor that drives a car and leaks oil / other fluids on the street (heavily). I approached them but no attention has been made to correct the problem. Even though I called several County agencies (including health), no one could, or would, take responsibility for the problem. Yet I get a letter from the wildlife organizations (and yourself) about the killing of wildlife and it seeping into the water table, I would think SOMEONE would be concerned on the issue. Can you help?

Bryant Bullock : The Fairfax County Department of Transportation website lists the Fire and Rescue Department as the contact for situations in which hazardous materials are dripping on the road from parked vehicles that may affect surface water/groundwater and endanger animals. I would also recommend contracting the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to seek their advice and report a pollution incident if warranted.

Jennifer : What should I do if I find a baby animal without its mother?

Katherine Edwards : A baby animal's best chance for survival is to remain wild with it's parents. If you suspect an animal has been abandoned or orphaned, do not handle or disturb the animal as a safety precaution. Contact the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline at (855) 571-9003 if you have questions about whether the animal is in need of help or to locate a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. The Wildlife Rescue League also maintains a hotline and list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators on their website as well as resources for determining if an animal needs help.

Anonymous User : Please discuss the local snake population, We have some helpful snakes that live in this area that want nothing to do with us but do an excellent job of minimizing the rodent and in some cases bug population. Please advocate for our local snakes. I have neighbors who call the exterminator at the first sight of any snake. Snakes are an important element that help manage the balance of nature around here. Thank-you.

Katherine Edwards : Snakes invoke fear in many people and have received a bad reputation based on misunderstanding. Snakes serve critical roles as both predator and prey and are important components of ecological communities. They provide a valuable service in terms of pest control for rodents and insects that may impact homes, gardens, and landscapes. Snakes also serve as a food source for other wildlife including raccoons, opossums, and skunks.

Fairfax County is home to a diverse array of snake species, most of which are non-venomous and pose no threat to people. Common species encountered include eastern (black ) rat snakes, eastern kingsnakes, garter snakes, and northern ringneck snakes. The northern copperhead is the only venomous species commonly found in Fairfax County. Most snakes are generally not aggressive and will retreat when encountered.

Non-venomous species are commonly misidentified as venomous species based on coloration or pattern. The non-venomous northern water snake is commonly confused with the cottonmouth and juvenile eastern rat snakes are frequently misidentified as copperheads. Cottomouths only occur within the southeastern counties in VA and are not found in Fairfax County.

The Virginia Herpetological Society provides good information for snake identification including common look-a-like species.

Carole : Several scratches, some in short parallel lines deep enough that you can feel them with you finger, have appeared on the hood and trunk of our son's car. Similar scratches are popping up on my car and my husband's. A garage mechanic says it could be caused by an animal, but what kind of thing would have claws that strong? Additionally, a neighbour reports a fox found in his back garden with bite marks on its skull and the carcass laid bare and stripped. Could you give me an idea of what might be damaging our cars or boule be strong and fast enough to catch a fox, presuming the animal wasn't slowed by illness?

Katherine Edwards : It's difficult to determine without seeing the scratches. There have been instances in which domestic or feral cats have caused damage to cars. If you have an image of the scratches, please email them to me at and I can try and provide more assistance.

Regarding the deceased fox, it is often difficult to determine the cause of death without viewing the carcass, especially if it has been scavenged or at an advanced stage of decomposition. Coyotes have been known to bite the head or neck of prey and cause bone damage. However, the fox may have died from other causes than predation (disease, vehicle, starvation) and then was fed upon by other animals.

Bryant Bullock : Thank you for all of the great questions. We really enjoyed participating in this chat and we hope you found it helpful and informative. If you would like more information on some of these topics, please visit or

Have a great day!