Mange, an often fatal disease, is ravaging the Sun Valley fox population.
The culprit is a tiny mange mite that burrows under an animal's skin, causing irritation, infection and loss of fur. According the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, people feeding foxes is a contributing factor to the spread of the disease in the Sun Valley area.
Mange is a fairly common disease among foxes, but has become widespread recently in the Sun Valley area because of an unusually dense population of the animals.
"We really don't see it everywhere," said Regan Berkley, regional wildlife biologist for the Fish and Game office in Jerome. "They're very visible up there and so we hear of them quite a lot."
Berkley said the area's fox population has exceeded "normal population growth." The more animals in close proximity, the easier for the disease to spread.
"One of the contributing factors up there is that people feed them so much," Berkley said. "There's a fine line between loving something and potentially loving something too much."
Foxes with mange have scruffy-looking fur, or no fur at all on tails or patches of their bodies. Sometimes their eyes become infected, making it difficult for them to see. Animals often die from starvation or hypothermia.
The disease can spread to dogs, but can easily be treated. But treating wild animals is a more difficult matter.
"Most of the calls we get, the animals are in such poor condition and have deteriorated so much there's nothing we can do about it," Berkley said.
In those cases, the animals are typically destroyed.
"It's a serious health concern," Berkley said. "Mange is a really unfortunate condition for a fox to have. They get the mites and the mites get in their skin and cause skin infections and loss of hair.
"When that happens, it's difficult for an animal to survive the winter up there."
Terry Smith: email@example.com