Keeping up with Juniper the Fox & Friends
Keeping up with a domesticated fox and her merry band of furry creatures is no walk in the enchanted forest…
Juniper and her friends are more famous than most humans – the lively gang has over 2.9 million followers on Instagram alone, not to mention hundreds of thousands of other followers across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and TikTok. Jessika Coker is the human behind the lens as well the caregiver to 17 different animals – from foxes, snakes, geckos, sugar gliders, chinchillas, to one very adorable opossum – at her home wildlife sanctuary. Through the dream-like photo filters and the charming, distinct personality of every pet, Coker says, “It definitely makes me feel like I’m living in a fantasy world where all of my friends are woodland creatures.” Coker’s right-hand man, her 10-year-old Alaskan Malamute mix, Moose, helps to maintain order among the group of strong-willed creatures. To some, Coker may appear to be living a fairytale; however, she’s doing important work in wildlife rescue and rehabilitation. Read South’s Q-and-A with Coker below, and find more Juniper & friends content in the October/November 2020 issue.
South: When and how did your work rescuing exotic pets start?
Jessika Coker: I grew up in a rural area where there were not other children to play with so I spent a lot of my childhood wandering around in the woods surrounding our home. I would find sick and abandoned animals frequently. I believe that, along with the few animals we raised at home, sparked a love for animals that lead me into a lifelong journey of constantly wanting to be involved in animal care. When I was old enough to volunteer at animal shelters and wildlife rehabs I did. I managed to land my first job at a local zoo and my fascination only continued from there. After taking Juniper in and gaining the support of millions of people via social media, I realized I finally had means to create a rescue myself, and so our small sanctuary began!
S: What is the most challenging thing and the most rewarding thing about caring for exotic animals in a domesticated environment?
JC: Having wild animals in the house is probably the equivalent of having furry toddlers that never grow up. It’s wonderful being able to go about my day with them nearby – it definitely makes me feel like I’m living in a fantasy world where all of my friends are woodland creatures – but allowing them access to being indoors whenever they please also means constantly supervising what they’re doing. Need to go to the other room? Better make sure that you didn’t leave anything behind that they can chew on. Need to talk on the phone? Prepare for interruptions or the sound of destruction in the background. Want to have guests over? Give them a rundown of what they can and cannot leave out, who they can pet, who they can’t pet, which doors to keep shut and which ones to keep open, etc.
S: How many and what different types of animals do you take care of?
JC: The number of animals I keep changes based on how many I’m fostering or rehabilitating at the time. Currently I have 17 permanent residents that include foxes, snakes, geckos, sugar gliders, chinchillas, and one very adorable opossum. I will take in any animal that needs help, but for the most part our “guests” are squirrels, opossums, dogs, and a range of other small animals.
S: It seems as though your dog, Moose, and Fig the fox share a close bond, as I noticed from your Instagram page. How challenging is it to foster relationships between the animals, particularly interspecies friendships? Do they come to it naturally? What is the current dynamic like?
JC: With such a variety of animals it’s not practical to assume all of them will get along with each other. The animals are all sectioned off by size and compatibility in the house, but are kept in separate enclosures or in areas where they are not able to harm one another. The only animal that is allowed to interact with all of the other animals is Moose because of his gentle demeanor. After 10 years of living with me, Moose has become desensitized to any new animal that comes through the door and at this point nothing fazes him. He acts as a guardian to them and each animal has a very special bond with him. Juniper and Fig have the closest relationship with Moose and it’s amazing to watch their faces light up with joy anytime he enters the room.
S: You recently posted a clip on Instagram showing how you prepare for incoming storms. What advice do you have for pet owners to keep their pets safe during hurricane season?
JC: I hope that anyone with pets who lives in an area that suffers from frequent natural disasters has a disaster plan that involves their animal. When it comes to myself I make sure to crate each animal incase of the need for quick evacuation and leave them crated until the danger has passed incase of damage to the home. If we were to have a busted window, part of the house ripped away, or anything similar, they would surely run outside where they could be hurt or lost –which is what I’m constantly fearful of when we are faced with these kinds of obstacles.
S: Are there specific rescue and/or rehabilitation organizations you support or work with that our readers should know about?
JC: There are so many great wildlife and exotic rescues that I could name off, but I think that if readers are interested the best thing to do is support their local wildlife rehab! Wildlife rehab and exotic animal rescues depend solely on donations and everyone must start somewhere. I think those that are smaller and get less media exposure could always use more help than the larger facilities. So be sure to take a quick search and see who you could help nearby! They may even be able to set up a time to volunteer!
S: What would you say to a person considering a fox as a pet?
JC: Foxes do not make good “pets.” They can make great companions, but are nothing like having a cat or a dog. They are extremely intelligent and willful. They do not aim to please the way a dog would. They stay in a toddler-like state until they are around 2-3 years old. My life has been forever changed because of these animals. There are no vacations, finding someone to watch them while I’m away is almost impossible. They require a specialized exotic vet, which can be expensive. They are nocturnal and unless given a strict routine will keep you awake all night. You are required by law to have a license to posses them and in many states it is illegal all together. I would suggest to anyone considering any exotic “pet” to please be sure to do your research before making a commitment. Rescues and sanctuaries are quickly filling up because people see these animal and make the mistake of thinking living with them will be like a fantasy, when in reality it’s a full time job.