A group of thieving foxes is notorious for snagging food and the occasional wallet or cell phone from unattended golf carts at the San Jose, Calif., property. “The foxes are better at stealing things than we are at golf,” said one frequent golfer, adding that a fox stole a bagged lunch out of his cart just last week.
They’ve lifted countless brown-bag lunches and an occasional wallet or cellphone, but the thieving foxes of Los Lagos Golf Course in San Jose, Calif., have earned a measure of respect from their marks, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
Golfers who focus too closely on their next shot are discovering their unattended carts are easy prey for these four-footed ninjas at the 18-hole course in the heart of Silicon Valley, the News reported.
“The foxes are better at stealing things than we are at golf,” said Paul Cook, of San Jose, who plays here with his retired buddies a couple of times a month. They were driving the links last week with a bagged lunch perched out of canine reach atop the cart, placed there because of prior run-ins with the gang. “They once got my sandwich and a third of a banana,” Cook said. “Worked the zipper on my bag to get it; I didn’t think that was possible.”
General Manager Scot Hathaway said the foxes first appeared about a decade ago. Early sightings were infrequent and brief, flashes of red at the edge of Coyote Creek’s ravine. But these days, it’s all but guaranteed that golfers will see multiple foxes cavorting about the links on any morning or late afternoon, the News reported..
“When they first came here they stayed farther away, but over time with more litters, they got more comfortable, having grown up in the environment,” Hathaway said. “They have always been visible, but now they’re less skittish.”
He said they’re still wary enough to keep a safe distance from people and haven’t shown any signs of aggression—just looking for a chance to pull a fast dash-n-dine, the News reported.
Los Lagos isn’t alone. In the East Bay, Monarch Bay Golf Club, perched bayside next to the San Leandro Marina, has a similar skulk, pulling similar high jinks. “Yeah, they’ll go for lunches, cellphones, GPS units,” said golf shop assistant Chris Walton. “People will take pictures, and they’ll hang around just waiting for your back to turn.”
Other courses have more of the usual fare—deer, turkeys and Canada geese, the latter of which have been a long-running and messy problem at the Rossmoor retirement community course in Walnut Creek. Castro Valley’s Redwood Canyon course has an occasional bobcat sighting and rare, unconfirmed reports of mountain lions, the News reported.
Ben Sacks, an expert on foxes at UC Davis, said fox dens often appear on a golf course but what’s going on at Los Lagos and Monarch Bay indicates they’ve become “human habituated.”
“That’s not typical of a wild animal; someone’s been feeding those foxes,” Sacks said. “It’s like the coyotes in Yosemite that get used to scraps.”
Whatever the reason, golfers have been amazed at what the foxes will take. Ralph Hill, of Pacifica, witnessed his PB&J get snatched as he prepared to putt. “It probably unwrapped it, and then threw the wrapper in the trash,” Hill joked.
They even swiped Dale Henderson’s cellphone from an unattended cart—for what reason, he can only guess. “I used the ‘Find my iPhone’ app,” he said, showing off the recovered phone in a scuffed leather case. “It was in those large tufts of grass between holes 11 and 2.”
“I think they like the leather cases, or the smell of oils from peoples’ hands,” Hathaway said. “One cellphone that was taken was chewed up only in one spot: the thumb-button.”
The foxes aren’t just petty thieves. They’re also possibly the cutest example of a hostile home invader. Unlike gray foxes, such as those famously occupying the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, the red variety was brought to California for fur farming and hunting purposes in the 1800s. Foxes escaped and many were released when operations ceased. They first appeared around San Francisco Bay in the 1980s and were well established within a decade, the News reported.
The foxes’ current digs at the course along Coyote Creek are 13 miles from where the waterway lets out near the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, but state officials said there’s no reason for them to be particularly concerned. “Essentially, our overall policy is to keep it wild,” said Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Hughan. “We’re not in the business of removing populations.”
It would be different if they were threatening an endangered species, Hughan said, or if the golf course, which is owned by the City of San Jose, considered the animals a nuisance. But Hathaway said the foxes pose no problems and help curb the population of rodents and hundreds of mud hens that arrive each winter, devouring the grass and leaving greens covered in bird droppings. Plus, “I think people like to see them,” Hughan said. “Whether that makes them come here to play golf, I don’t know.”
Patrick Hogan, wildlife director of the Peninsula Humane Society, said he’s “all too familiar” with situations such as the Los Lagos foxes. “These clever predatory mammals get habituated based on positive reinforcement,” Hogan said. “They steal sandwiches and people take pictures; nobody’s throwing things at them or scaring them off with loud noises.”
For example, he said hikers often carry a “penny can” noisemaker to shake to frighten wildlife and avoid run-ins. But golfers, who appreciate sanctum silence to help concentration, probably wouldn’t appreciate folks making a ruckus, the News reported.
“You need to be loud and annoying,” Hogan said, “but I could see that being a problem at a golf course.”