Deep within the wilds of west Ashland, a predator stalks the duplex of 78-year-old Murilla Page.
It strikes at night, leaving bodies and destruction in its wake. It fears nothing, neither deer, cats nor push lawn mowers. Its name ... the gray fox.
The creature's rampage may have begun last spring, when Page witnessed a gray fox chasing a fawn on her property. She didn't actually see the fox kill the baby deer, but she later found the skeletal remains of a fawn in some bushes near her duplex's shared garden.
Thursday evening, the killings continued.
Page said she was mowing her lawn with a push mower when she noticed a new fawn, recently dead and lying in her yard. Later, as she watched from her porch, she witnessed two dark figures moving toward the body. The fox was back and it had brought a friend.
As night fell on Thursday, Page said, she watched from her porch as the two gray foxes inspected the new carcass. She expected them to drag it away, but as of Friday morning, it was still there. The fawn was obviously dead, but bore no apparent wounds or bleeding. Was this scene the result of a vicious fox attack, or did the deer die of natural causes?
Page isn't sure whether foxes or disease killed this latest fawn, but biologist Rosemary Stussy with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Central Point office says it's highly improbable that foxes are killing deer in Ashland.
"The likelihood of a deer being killed by a gray fox is zero," Stussy said Friday afternoon. "Possibly a brand-spanking-new fawn ... that's already sick and lying there and momma's not defending it, possibly. But that is reaching. More than likely it was killed by something else."
Stussy said that another predator killing the deer, such as a coyote, bobcat or cougar, was a more realistic option if the fawn had parental supervision.
"The momma deer would stomp on a fox like it would a dog," she said.
Stussy did say, however, that a lone fawn in bad condition would present a tempting target for a gray fox.
Whether or not the gray fox is responsible for the recent spate of deer slayings, it does appear that a skulk has set up in Page's neighborhood.
"I know it was a gray fox and not another kind of fox or a coyote," Page said. "I looked it up, and the gray fox has a black stripe on its tail, and that's what I saw."
Page isn't the only one seeing foxes.
Keith Buchanan, who is visiting family in Ashland and is staying next door to Page, said he saw the foxes on Wednesday. He said he saw more than just two foxes. By his count the young couple now had at least four kits.
Although located right next to Ashland Community Hospital, Page's residence is adjacent to a wooded area that could serve as a home for her new neighbors.
Regardless of who or what is responsible, Page still has a fresh deer carcass in her backyard and she's unsure of what to do with it. Representatives from the city of Ashland said they're unable to remove the carcass because of its presence on private property, but could do so if it were on a street.
Stussy said her agency isn't responsible for the removal either, and Jackson County Animal Control said it deals only with live animals.
If their actions Thursday night are an indicator, the foxes don't want any piece of it either.
Late Friday afternoon, Ashland city officials were reportedly in contact with Page to help her figure out how to deal with the fawn corpse.
Reach Mail Tribune intern Mat Wolf at 541-776-4481 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.