Tuzik the feisty fox

Saved from a sure death in a fur farm, Tuzik is now one of the happiest animals in Totem.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Tuzik was born in a fur farm. Considered concentration camps for animals, these facilities usually provide fur-bearers with basic care – enough to make them grow gorgeous pelts that will then be harvested. Which is a neutral, friendly word to say brutally killed and skinned, sometimes alive. But we are not here to talk about fur farms, which you surely already know all about.

When this little cub was born, deep one night at the end of winter, he slipped onto the cold grates of his mother’s cramped cage alongside his stillborn brothers and sisters. His mother tried hard to find some spark of life in his siblings; when her tongue swept over his tiny wet head she felt him shift, take a breath, whine once. He was alive! She curled her warm silver body around him and he started suckling, protected and safe from the cold Russian night.

But not from the fur farmers. Every morning they did their rounds, checking the cages to see which animals needed to be fed and watered, which had died during the night and which ones were ready to be harvested. One of the farmers dragged two wheelbarrows behind him, one with a large metal box in it and one with an ever-increasing pile of corpses. In the metal box all the other foxes could hear the whimpering and scraping of those that were being taken to be skinned. The second farmer had a long hose and a bucket of leftovers, gathered by poorly paid local teenagers from garbage cans outside restaurants, boiled so long that they had become a colourless mush. This second farmer would arrive in front of a cage and bang on the door with his fist. If the fox was dead, he’d throw it in the first wheelbarrow. If it was time, he’d stick his gloved hand in the cage, grab the fox’s tail and shove it in the metal box. If it was neither, he’d spray some freezing water in the tiny bowl and dump food in the corner of the cage, moving on before he saw the animal desperately lapping at the water that it had been dreaming of all night.

That morning, when the farmers arrived in front of the vixen’s cage, they saw what had happened during the night. Cursing, one of them yanked the crying mother from her cage and held her hanging from her tail as the other scooped the dead cubs and Tuzik into the wheelbarrow. He yelped when he fell causing the farmer to grunt with annoyance. He was picked up from the scruff of his neck and thrown unceremoniously back in with his mother.

Six weeks later, Tuzik’s eyes had opened and his fur had turned from a dark velvet black to a deep mahogany. The morning sun was warming his tiny body, squished between his mother and the cage walls. There was barely enough space to stand, let alone to lie comfortably. The sun’s rays cut through the trees and his fur shone with light orange streaks.

The owner of the fur farm was visiting that day, to check on his wares. He stopped in front of their cage and after a few muttered words one of the two farmers that was escorting him thrust his hand over Tuzik’s head and yanked him out of the cage, leaving his mother howling and scratching at the door in confusion.

Hanging from his tail, Tuzik saw the farmers’ boots splattered in mud and blood and fur. He saw the owner’s shoes, so clean the sun shone straight in his eyes. He saw his mother’s paws, clawing at the mesh wire in vain.

“Ryzhij?” asked the first farmer, the one not holding him.

The second farmer nodded, snorted and spit on the ground. You see, Tuzik’s mother was a Silver fox and his father an Arctic fox. After being brutally forced to mate, the farmers expected a healthy litter of silvery blue to sell at a higher price. But not only had Tuzik’s mother managed to bring only one cub to term, the cub had now proved to be ryzhij. Red.

“Izbav’sya ot nego” The owner’s voice was deep and expressionless. Get rid of him.

Tuzik, still held painfully by his tail, heard the crunching of hard ground as the farmer that was holding him walked away towards the entrance of the fur farm. Heard the heavy breathing as yet another security door was opened. And heard his mother’s howls, even after they had been walking for more than five minutes.

He was dumped in a sac and hung from the coat rack – a nuisance to be dealt with later. For hours he pushed and scrambled and called, trying desperately to escape from an inescapable situation. Like being back in his mother’s uterus, he turned and turned and turned until one of the farmers came back, picked up the sac and drove to a wildlife rehabilitation centre.

Why his life was spared, we cannot know. Why he wasn’t left on the road to be driven over by a van, or kicked to death or given to a pack of hunting dogs, we can’t guess. But the fact remains that little Tuzik was given another chance and, thanks to one of the farmers at the facility, was taken to Totem. No better place could have been chosen.

In Totem, Tuzik got his name (“small ace of spades”) and all the love his own mother would have given him, had she been able to. Fed as best they could, the staff at Totem cared for him day and night until he became a young adult and was joined by Rada, another young fox with an equally traumatising past. When she arrived in Totem, Rada was a tiny two-month-old cub whose parents had been brutally killed by the same hunters that decided to drop her off at Totem. Useless to them because of her size, she found a new home in Totem and a new friend in Tuzik.

Cuddles at Totem. Courtesy of Totem Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

Inseparable, the two foxes live and interact with Totem’s staff, not unlike two playful dogs. Rada is the more reserved of the two, submissive towards humans and Tuzik. She likes being cuddled less than Tuzik and he is rarely the gentleman – stealing her food and toys when he can, they now have to be separated during meals so that the young vixen can eat as much as she wants. When there is no food involved, Tuzik and Rada are quite the mischievous pair – once they managed to escape their pen and render the offices a war zone: they uprooted plants, chewed the cables, peed on the carpets and ate anything they deemed edible!

Tuzik, exploring the snow. Courtesy of Totem Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

Tuzik is now six years old. His and Rada’s chances of being released in the wild are non-existent, seeing as they both had to be raised completely captive and with close human contact to survive. And survive they did, in one of the best wildlife rehabilitation centres in Russia. In Totem they have a loving home and adoptive family that will care for them until they are in this world, giving them the best possible life.

We at the Big Hearts Foundation support all the work done in Totem. Having heard of their problems last year we helped fundraise and spread their story. We hope to share more anecdotes and photos of Tuzik and Rada soon!

courtesy of Totem Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre

How you can help:

Share this post to raise awareness on the fox’s plight in Russia
Like Totem’s facebook page 
Adopt Tuzik and Rada by writing us an email at
Boycott clothing that has any kind of animal fur on it so that gradually this practise will become obsolete
Follow us (here, on Instagram or Facebook) to get the most recent updates on animals in Russia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s