The Urban Wildlife Research Project (UWRP) unofficially began in 2009 when Bill, “the Fox Guy” Leikam came upon a gray fox sitting beside an old dirt road in the San Francisco Baylands of Central California. Out of sheer curiosity, Bill returned for several consecutive mornings and on the third such morning, he saw that there were three young gray foxes across the road and under the edge of a thicket. He suddenly realized that there was not just one gray fox but a family of them living there in that thicket. Bill began regularly visiting that road, sitting across from the foxes and jotting down notes on their behavior.
In 2012, ecologist and professional videographer Greg Kerekes asked to join Bill on one of his morning rituals of observing these foxes. At first Bill was reluctant. But finding out that Greg consulted with several conservation organizations in Silicon Valley and that he was a true ecologist, Bill accepted Greg’s request. From that point, the two of them engaged in video filming and documentation of the gray fox. See The Gray Foxes of Silicon Valley The Gray Foxes of Silicon Valley. When asked why he took Greg on as a companion in the beginning and a partner as time passed, Bill said, “When I got to know Greg a little bit, I knew that he was authentic in his attitudes toward wildlife. Others who wanted to go with me had no background in wildlife research whereas Greg did. Others wanted to join me just to see the foxes.”
One morning in 2013 Bill brought up the notion that they should establish an organization that does research on urban wildlife. Greg asked, “What should we call it?” Right off the top of his head, in that very moment, Bill replied, “Oh something like the Urban Wildlife Research Project.” It stuck like Crazy Glue. Bill began receiving email from various organizations asking him to give presentations on his findings. The very first one was the Environmental Volunteers at the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve to a standing room only gathering of people, far more than had been expected. This kicked off a series of presentations titled “A Year with the Urban Gray Fox.” These events initiated a series of newspaper articles about the UWRP as the organization began to grow. It was at Bill’s 2013 presentation on the Google World Headquarters’ Campus when a young woman rushed through the doors, came to the front row and took the only open seat in the room. Once the presentation was finished, she introduced herself as Beth Pratt, the California representative for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). She said that she was amazed at what Bill and Greg had presented and immediately offered them the opportunity to partner with the NWF, which they did.
Growth continued to take hold as word spread. On March 3rd, 2018, the Urban Wildlife Research Project officially became a recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit. By then a communications volunteer was helping and soon other volunteers came into the scene, including field assistants and a grants manager. Collectively the team supports our gray fox research and vision for establishing wildlife corridors to protect their habitat and to increase the health of the local environment. When asked why he does this, Bill smiles, “My curiosity has simply grown from those early years. It is the engine that moves me and the UWRP forward.”