Definition of Tolerance

We started putting out game cameras in the back yard and found through a series of videos that we have a family of gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus scottii) – Mama, Papa, female and male juveniles; and a pair of hognose skunks (Conepatus leuconotus).  The hognose skunk is an Arizona “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” – so although our dogs, home, and horses have been sprayed we feel lucky just to have them here to add to the diversity of wildlife at the Willow Creek Riparian Preserve.

My husband and I are Wildlife Ecologists with 30 years of experience throughout the southwestern US and although I believe we have open minds regarding wildlife interactions we never believed that two mammal species such as gray fox and skunk could co-exist in the same space, without some stinky repercussions that is!  Apparently the Fox Family and the Hognose Skunk have worked out a deal to share the bird seed while seemingly equally tolerating each other’s presence.  The fox doesn’t attack or kill the skunk and the skunk in turn won’t spray them.

Thinking about this on a deeper level than the fox or the skunk ever would, I see their relationship as one that is purely defined as Tolerance.  They do in fact, tolerate each other.  They do in fact, tolerate each other’s space.  They do in fact, tolerate each other’s foraging and drinking space.  They do in fact, tolerate each other’s movements about the yard.

What do we tolerate?  How do we tolerate?  Is tolerating the same a avoiding?  The same as non-confliction?  The same as indifference?  For the fox and skunk their tolerance is a shared need for food and water in an otherwise parched desert landscape.  So, what will we tolerate and share at the same time with others?  There are lots of examples like cars on the highway – we share the road and we tolerate each other and we tolerate the space between us; sitting in traffic we don’t interact with the people in the car next to us – we avoid, we keep our space safe, we tolerate our position and theirs in the stinking traffic.  Like the fox and skunk we know that getting too close could be dangerous – that is the basis of primal instincts we all share.  Would it be possible to make a friend out of this situation?  I know the fox and skunk will never be friends, nor companions.  They will compete for food and water, they share the food and water, and they will tolerate each other’s presence.  Get too close and …

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