OCEAN CITY — A family of foxes frolicking among the dunes in the area of 134th Street and a deer in another area of north Ocean City have recently provided an up close and somewhat adorable brush with nature in the otherwise fairly urban resort, but residents and visitors are reminded to keep their distance and observe wildlife from afar.
Several times last month, a family of what appeared to be four foxes was spotted among the dunes in the area of 134th Street. In addition, a deer was surrounded by police on a dune in north Ocean City over Memorial Day weekend after initially being spotted in a commercial parking lot. While it may seem odd in an urban area like Ocean City in the summer months, it’s certainly not unusual to see wildlife interacting with human neighbors on the barrier island.
In recent years, there have been numerous sightings of foxes, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, skunks, rabbits, snakes and even white tail deer in the increasingly developed areas of Ocean City. As the town has grown and reached build-out, much of the wild animals’ natural habitat has been developed, causing more and more interactions with their human counterparts.
For the most part, the wild animals are generally harmless and peacefully coexist with the throngs of residents and visitors to the resort, but on some occasions, the wildlife have become aggressive and interacting with them can cause injury and the spread of disease.
The Ocean City Police Department, which maintains an Animal Control officer to deal with wildlife interactions, this week is urging residents and visitors to enjoy the wild animals, but avoid approaching them or coming into contact with them.
“We definitely want to encourage all of our citizens to watch wildlife from afar and never approach any wildlife they may see in town,” said OCPD spokesperson Lindsay O’Neal this week. “If any citizens see wildlife, we encourage them to call us so that we can ensure the animal’s safety.”
While ensuring the safety of the resort’s resident wildlife is important, more critical is providing for the safety of the residents and visitors. Last year, the resort area and all of Worcester County saw a severe spike in the number of reported cases of rabies, mostly in raccoons, but also occasionally in foxes and other animals.
“We want to remind citizens to report any animals with suspicious behavior such an animal approaching people,” she said. “Wildlife will naturally avoid human contact, so we ask that all citizens report animals that approach people because this could be sign of rabies.”
Last year, the Worcester County Health Department reported 46 total confirmed cases of rabies, including 40 raccoons, three foxes, one groundhog, one bat and one dog. The 46 confirmed cases in 2013 were up from 19 cases reported in 2012 and just 16 reported in 2011. Thus far this year, the health department has reported six confirmed cases, including five raccoons and one fox.
In one particularly unusual case last year, a rabid raccoon attacked a crew of landscapers working around Northside Park in June. The aggressive raccoon came at the group of workers and came into contact with one individual. While the worker was not bitten, nor did he have an open wound, he was treated for rabies because he had come into contact with the rabid animal.
Strangely enough, the same landscaping grew was working in a different area in north Ocean City around five blocks away the very next day when presumably the same raccoon attacked them again. The raccoon swam across a canal and aggressively approached the crew, which ultimately hit the animal with a shovel and killed it. The dead raccoon later tested positive for rabies.
Occasionally, deer have also made their presence known in Ocean City, often with mixed results. The deer live in still undeveloped wooded areas in the resort, or come over from the less developed Delaware resort areas. The deer have also been known to swim across the bay from the mainland or even walk across during times of extreme low tides. On one memorable occasion, a deer was spotted walking into the resort across the Route 50 bridge.
While the deer typically come and go without incident or interaction, there have been incidents in the past with sometimes unusual endings. In one case in 2007, a deer was seen roaming the Boardwalk on a June morning and the OCPD was brought in to shoot the animal with a tranquilizer. However, the deer did not immediately respond to the tranquilizer, instead charging down the Boardwalk at a high rate of speed before crashing through the window of a restaurant at 15th Street.
The deer was then sedated again and once it was unconscious, it was taken to a wooded area near Berlin where it was safely released. The deer suffered a few superficial cuts from the broken glass, but was not seriously injured.
In another memorable incident, a deer was spotted on the Inlet jetty rocks and was shot with a tranquilizer. However, the sedated deer nearly toppled over into the Inlet before being saved. It was also taken out into a rural area and released in the wild once it recovered from the ordeal.