It appears the trapped Riverland Terrace fox kits were snatched just when they were about to be saved.
They disappeared just as an agreement was being worked out transferring the kits to Keepers of the Wild, a nonprofit wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organization in St. George, the trapper's attorney said. They were caged at Southern Trappers when someone evidently forced open the cage Monday night, either to set them free or lure them into another cage.
The mother fox and the two sibling kits are still loose and the trapping effort continues.
Janet Kinser, the wildlife sanctuary director, appealed for the return of the young foxes, saying they haven't been weaned enough or taught to hunt yet, and can't make it in the wild.
"More than likely it was a good Samaritan, thinking they were saving their lives and doing a good thing. If they would just get them back to us, we don't care who it was," she said.
"We're still trying to reunite the family," said Robert Vanwormer of Southern Trappers.
The foxes were two of four young born in a roadside drainage culvert in front of a property owner who hired the trapper to remove them after becoming unsettled by dead animals in the yard. The trapping raised concerns among neighbors who opposed it. Foxes have long run along the edge of the marsh behind homes, and are among the wildlife prized by many in the wooded James Island community.
The controversy erupted last weekend, when Charleston County sheriff's deputies were called out to the property after the trap set for the foxes was pushed over and pushed in.
Vanwormer hoped to relocate the animals, but state law says that once a fur-bearing animal is trapped it must be killed. There's too big a danger of rabies or another disease getting relocated along with the animal. The neighborhood association weighed in, calling for the foxes to be relocated rather than killed.
State Rep. Anne Peterson Hutto, a Democrat who represents James Island and Folly Beach, approached the S.C. Natural Resources Department about permitting Keepers of the Wild to take the animals. Hutto, it turns out, has had a mother fox den under her shed. The wildlife sanctuary agreed not to release the foxes. Natural Resources attorneys were reviewing the agreement when the kits were removed.
"I think we were really, really close to having an agreement, but now we don't have any foxes," Hutto said. "It breaks my heart."
Kinser said she was setting up a partly wooded outdoor pen that would serve as a natural habitat.
"Someone either let them free or took them, we just don't know. Somebody who knew what they were doing could have opened the cage and put another cage up to it," said Rob Turkewitz, Vanwormer's attorney. "They may have thought they were doing the right thing but they really weren't."