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You can easily meet it in spring or summer, when the mountain is full of tourists. But you can also see it in the winter, hungry and tired, looking for cuddles. The fox of Mount Etna (video here) is the last big predator of the volcano after the extinction of wolves and African dogs. But this lovely animal is slowly losing its hunting spirit and turning into just another “pet”. The fox is nice, lovely, beautiful but it is still wild. No one should feed it. Do resist to the plea in its big yellow eyes, though you feel sorry. Do not stop. To tame the last wild soul of Etna is the worst mistake.

The fox and Etna

The descendant of great ancestors that used to live all over the northern part of the planet, the Vulpes Vulpes is the classic red fox of the fairy tales! This large family includes 40 groups, in it. Every group got used to a specific region or climate in Italy, and the fox of Etna is the best example of this kind.

etna fox 02
photo by Rosario Catania ETNAWORLD ORG

These predators have survived more than many others the crazy climate of a mountain which is also a volcano. And, therefore, in addition to changes in weather and seasons, it includes obstacles and dangers related to gas and lava. The fox of Etna has learned to find a home in the sharp lava rocks, it has adapted to the micro fauna of local prey. It got used to the winters and summers that – on the highest volcano in Europe – do not have a specific time.

The intensive tourism that characterizes this fascinating mountain has meant that the foxes learned to share their spaces with humans as well. They eat our food’s leftovers, know the picnic spots and shelters. They  increasingly accept food directly from the hands of tourists, who love to feed the foxes they encounter during  excursions. But this is the most wrong move to make.

The fox of Etna and the risk of domestication

The fox of Etna usually lives on the south-east flank of the volcano. Not surprisingly, this is the most touristic area, frequented in every season thanks to the better conditions of the roads and locations. Restaurants, souvenir shops, farmhouses … there is no shortage of places where man and nature coexist. The fox knows this and now “waits for” the tourists at the gate.

It is impossible to resist its gaze, especially when you meet it on a cold day or in the snow. And it is spontaneous and natural to feed it with the same food you eat. But this is wrong. First, because the typical diet of the fox is upset with unsuitable foods. Second, because the fox gets used to trusting completely in man, to depend on him, even when he comes near to harm it. Finally, if the fox gets used to eat ready-made food it will lose that wild instinct for hunting, which is  nature.

Even if this animal is beautiful and lovely, a fox should not be tamed. It must be discouraged from approaching. This splendid predator must be saved by forcing it to fend for itself and remain as wild and free as it always has been.

Admire foxes in nature

If you really want to do some good to the Etna foxes, be content to admire them while they live free in nature. Recognizing them is very easy. They have a similar body shape as that of dogs, but a muzzle much closer to the shape of that of wolves. They have a color ranging from red, to yellow-orange up  to gray and white. The eyes are round, often halfway between yellow and green colour, or reddish brown.

Foxes are solitary animals. They share spaces only with the partner and the puppies, until the latter are big enough to go away. Males are skilled hunters but they also know how to look after the little ones. The females are the queens of the den and proudly defend it.

Foxes eat a lot of berries, birds’ eggs, land animals, small rodents. Their diet also includes reptiles and some types of insects. If their territory is “polluted” by humans, it is natural that the foxes also learn to eat hens, chicken eggs and lambs. That is the case where the belief spreads that foxes are dangerous animals, which they are NOT. And if you keep them wild, they will avoid undermining human activities.

The  “Urpi”

For the people of Etna, especially for naturalists and for the guides of the volcano, the fox is “Urpi“, a dialect word that indicates this animal. There are no known traditions or legends related to the fox in this part of Sicily, but in many ancient cultures this animal was seen as a symbol of the afterlife. The fox comes to announce news from the underworld, or accompanies souls to the other world.

Other times it is seen as the embodiment of chaos-related deities. All these characteristics are well linked to a mountain, Etna, formerly seen as the “gate of hell” or the seat of the god of thunder  Hephaestus. And therefore it will not be a coincidence that even today, fortunately, the “Urpi” is the image of the most beautiful and mysterious mountain in Sicily!


Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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