Environmental Conservation Officers believe the animal that was reported as being an exotic cat may actually be a fox with mange.
"They have been kind of seeing a boom in the fox population," said State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman Bill Fonda. "When they are booming, foxes come in contact with each other and often spread mange through the population."
The infected fox's fur falls out in splotches. "Maybe it ultimately makes the fox look less fox-like," Fonda said.
"Red fox are very susceptible to mange, a disease caused by the mite Sarcoptes scabei. Mange mites burrow into the skin, thereby causing irritation, skin thickening (hyperkeratosis), and hair loss. Infected individuals may make it through the summer months, but quickly succumb to hypothermia once winter arrives," according to the DEC website.
Red foxes are prevalent on Long Island. Fonda said they can measure as large as 26-inches from head to the end of the body with a 14-inch tail, and 16-inches to the shoulder. "That makes it a fairly large animal," he said. Grey foxes, not as prevalent on Long Island, measure about the same, he said.
The person who reported the jaguar-like animal at a Spring Close Lane farm on Sunday estimated it to be five feet long and two feet to the shoulder.
Another caller reported seeing a fox that had some issue with its fur in the Hither Hills area on Wednesday morning. Earlier on Wednesday, Fonda told Patch the caller thought at first it was an exotic cat.
If it was a fox in both instances, the question remains whether it was the fox. Fonda said fox often travel in a five-mile radius.
Fonda said a fox with mange doesn't pose any direct danger to humans or other animals. He said they can be more irritable, however. "Exercise normal precautions viewing or getting in contact with an animal that has the potential to bite," he said.
, the veterinarian at the in Wainscott, said. "We don't see that type of mange, we see other types of mange," on the East End.
While mange is transmitted through direct exposure, Alward said it could be contracted through an environment where the fox was recently. "I don't see why they couldn't leave eggs behind," she said.
Mange is intensely itchy, she said, but treatable.
Anyone who spots a sick animal can call the ECO at 631-444-0250 or the wildlife unit hotiline at 631-444-0310.
Editor's Note: The photographs used here are not of the fox sighted on Wednesday, but of a fox with mange seen in Massachusetts in June.