To the human eye, a video of a faux fox may look like a character from an animated movie. However, to an orphaned juvenile red fox–called a kit–the furry friend is the best imitation of its mother that the employees from the Richmond Wildlife Center in Virginia can provide.

The video posted to Facebook shows Richmond Wildlife Center Executive Director Melissa Stanley wearing a red fox mask to cover her face, along with rubber gloves. She is feeding the kit with a syringe. The kit is also sitting on a large stuffed animal fox that is meant to resemble her mother, while cuddling up with another, smaller stuffed animal. 

Wildlife photo

CREDIT: Melissa Stanley/Richmond Wildlife Center.

“It’s important to make sure that the orphans that are raised in captivity do not become imprinted upon or habituated to humans,” the wildlife center wrote in the post. “To prevent that, we minimize human sounds, create visual barriers, reduce handling, reduce multiple transfers amongst different facilities, and wear masks for the species. The mask helps ensure that she does not see human faces when feeding, which is important if and when she can be released into the wild.”

Imprinting occurs when a very young animal fixes its attention on the first object that it sees, hears, or feels shortly after birth. It then follows that object or animal around, usually a parent. Human handlers must prevent the injured, orphaned, or endangered baby animals in their care from getting too attached, if their mother or father is not present. 

[Related: How to help an injured bird.]

“The goal is to release animals back into the wild, not only to give them a greater chance of survival, but to recognize their own species and to reproduce to carry on their wildlife population,” Stanley told the Associated Press.

The kit was admitted to the center on February 29. A man walking his dog found the kit in an alley in Richmond. She was brought to the Richmond SPCA, since her rescuer initially believed that she was a kitten. The kit was less than one day old, weighed about 2.2 ounces, and her umbilical stump was still attached. Staff from the wildlife center initially tried to find the baby’s mother and den so that they could reunite the pair. However, they found the den site but were told by a grounds superintendent that the foxes had been trapped and removed. The wildlife center believes that the fox kit either fell out of an enclosure or from the back of a truck when the foxes were caught. Since then, staff have been taking turns feeding her every two to four hours while wearing the fox mask. 

Director of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council, Kai Williams, told The Washington Post that she hadn’t seen this technique for foxes, but that it is a common one for humans caring for birds. Avians rely more on their eyesight than mammals, who are dependent on smell. 

“Something you’d see much more is somebody dressing up in a whole crane suit or a brolga— something like that,” Williams said. “Sometimes they’ll just dress up in a covering that hides their shape a little bit, so they don’t quite look like a human, they look like a weird mass. Or they’ll use a hand puppet.”

The end goal is not to inhibit a healthy amount of natural fear of humans by ensuring that they do not associate humans with nurturing activities or feeding. 

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The Richmond Wildlife Center located three other red fox kits in rehabilitation settings throughout northern Virginia. They hope to eventually place the baby with these other red foxes and release the kits back into the wild together when they are healthy. 

According to the Humane Society of the United States, some signs that an animal may need help include shivering, an obvious injury like a broken limb, or if it has been seen crying or wandering. For birds, signs include missing feathers or if it looks like it has fallen to the ground. If you see an animal acting unusual or with any of these signs, contact local wildlife officials for additional help.