EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The warm weather is giving rise to more wildlife sightings around the Borderland that has many residents asking “what the fox?”

Fox and coyote sightings are becoming more common as wildlife adapts to shifts in food supply following an outbreak of rabbit hemorrhagic disease.

Last year, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department reported die-offs of rabbits in areas that include El Paso County and that affected local cottontails and jackrabbits. 

“One of the things that happened in El Paso County is the rabbit die-off occurred right when the foxes and coyotes were having kits and pups,” said Ken Waldrup, a veterinarian in El Paso with the Texas Department of State Health Services Zoonosis Control.

Waldrup saidcoyote pups and fox kits were well-fed last year because they were able to scavenge off the bounteous dead rabbit population. This year, however, the now-grown — albeit young — coyote and fox populations are resorting to alternative methods for food, which can be fatal, to compensate for the reduced rabbit population. 

“Now they’re looking for food,” said Waldrup, “and we had a number of roadkill coyotes back in the autumn and winter — and we don’t get many roadkill coyotes.

“And they were young ones,” Waldrup added. 

Residents in El Paso have been reporting fox sightings on their home security cameras and have caught pictures of the critters on their phones.

Jay Miller in West El Paso shared photos with KTSM 9 News of a gray fox in his yard, resting in some brush. 

Waldrup saidthis behavior is to be expected.

“They’re looking for other sources of food, and for people who leave food out on their patios for their cats or their dogs — I promise, you’re feeding foxes and coyotes too,” said Waldrup. 

Despite the species’ cuteness, Waldrup warned that foxes carry diseases that can be transmitted to dogs, such as distemper, as well as to dogs and humans such as rabies. 

“Actually, this weekend we started seeing a number of foxes that we think have canine distemper,” he said.

Waldrup saidthat dog owners are advised to ensure their canines receive distemper vaccinations to avoid contracting the disease.

People are urged to stay away from any foxes, coyotes or any other wildlife they may encounter or to call El Paso Animal Services if they encounter an animal in distress. 

“The big indicator,” said Waldrup, “is if it runs away — let it go.”