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379th ECES enhances host nation relations through sand fox relocation effort

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Zachary Foster
  • 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, Public Affairs

In a deployed environment, service members take extra precautions to ensure they leave their host nation better than they arrived. Embodying this initiative is a two-person entomology team assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron.

Entomology, or pest control, is a unique career field of around 190 technicians across the U.S. Air Force. Teams of no more than four Airmen are responsible for two significant initiatives: maintaining total force health and ensuring minimal environmental impact on mission capabilities.

Both of these initiatives must be accomplished in the best interest of the Airmen while remaining aware of local statutes, endangered or protected statuses, and their impact on the ecosystem. These factors often pose a challenge to an already small workforce, carrying even more significance in a deployed environment.

“Within the region, many animals represent significant figures in religious or cultural practices and remaining aware of these customs is paramount to ensuring that host nation relationships remain untarnished and joint mission capabilities continue to be fostered,” explained the 379th ECES entomology senior enlisted leader.

In coordination with the host nation, the 379th ECES is undertaking a project to protect wing assets and personnel while retaining a minimal impact on the local ecosystem. Over the last two months, the team started a proactive approach to catching and relocating much of the wild animal population roaming the installation.

“Safety incidents involving wildlife during previous rotations created concerns for the health and safety of all members on the installation,” said the 379th ECES entomology SEL. “That prompted our section to mitigate these risks by relocating Rüppell's sand foxes to less populated areas outside the wire.”

The sand fox, or Rüppell's fox, is a native species typically found in warm desert environments, drawn to reliable food and water sources. This natural habitat preference presents a unique challenge on military installations, which inadvertently become attractive hubs for wildlife. Years of free roam inside the gate gave way to rapid reproduction and a significant uptick in interactions with service members.

“Controlling feral animal species is never an exact science,” said a 379th ECES entomology technician. “Each individual may behave differently based on past life experience. Temperaments between animals can vary wildly, and hostility is second nature to ensure survival. Whenever an animal feels threatened, they have the potential to endanger the health and safety of our members.”

Behavior isn’t the fox’s only issue. Alongside dogs, rats, birds, and many others, the fox is a carrier of diseases. This poses significant risks to military personnel and local communities, highlighting the importance of proactive wildlife management strategies.

“As with all species, traumatic experiences can create psychological behaviors like shyness, fear, and avoidance,” said a 379th ECES entomology technician. “When these experiences involve our trapping equipment, the efficacy of our controls diminishes, and we are left with fewer opportunities for humane control methods. Releasing a trapped animal [on the installation] allows them to continue to reproduce without the possibility of control, increasing the likelihood of negative impacts to the mission in the future.”

When animals are repeatedly released from the traps, it instills a negative association with entomology’s humane resources. Alternative methods like euthanasia can be employed to eliminate a threat to the installation’s members. However, they are typically reserved unless necessary.

The 379th ECES pest control team’s preferred method is to set out a cage with bait to capture any nocturnal animals roaming the installation, releasing them in the morning.

As a native species, the sand fox poses no threat to the local ecosystem and can be released into a more suitable environment away from service members.

“Pest management personnel only seek to control populations of feral animals that negatively impact the mission or present a disease transmission threat that impacts the health of the total force,” said the 379th ECES entomology SEL. “Humane population controls like trapping and relocation are often utilized as the first line of defense ensuring safety for all parties involved.”

Since the start of the current team’s initiative, nine foxes, alongside countless other species, have been rehomed outside the installation’s perimeter in the last two months.

These efforts have played a significant role in maintaining the health and safety of thousands assigned to the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing, their more than 55 mission partners, and the host nation. The duo’s commitment to humanely capturing and releasing local wildlife has shown a dedication to protecting their fellow Airmen and strengthened the 379th AEW’s relationship with their host nation.