Urban Fox

Help if you find an injured fox   

 

I am an unashamed friend of the fox. They generally live in peace amongst us, causing little harm and doing a fair degree of good in controlling the rodent population. I treat with great suspicion most anti-fox stories, mostly generated by people with a vested interest in their extermination or by peoples' ignorance of fox behaviour. Please take the time to learn a little about foxes ―most of what you think you know is incorrect.

The June 2010 story of 9-month old twin girls allegedly mauled by a fox has generated a lot of anti-fox feeling. My heart goes out to the children and their parents for this awful attack, but, for my part, I hold some reservations as to whether a fox was responsible for these poor children's injuries ― but, assuming they were, remember that there have been very, very few alleged fox attacks on humans ever and few alleged attacks on domestic cats or dogs. Generally speaking, foxes live quietly side by side with the rest of us (other than keeping us awake at night with their cries during certain parts of the year, and I prefer their sound to that of yelling yobs, booming car stereos, any neighbours' choice in loud music, the smell of petrol-soaked barbecue or ill-considered bonfires, don't you? ).

Since we moved here in 1996, my family and I have amicably shared our garden with urban foxes. Generally, there is nothing more than a mild curiosity between my cats and the foxes. For the most part, the cats and foxes behave as though they share different dimensions, completely ignoring each other as they pass each other ― though the younger cats sometimes take delight in stalking the foxes. For their part, the foxes usually remain shy and aloof.

We feed our foxes and every year we enjoy watching their cubs play in the garden. Why would we do that? Well, at least they're not attacking our bins. Also, if they are well-fed, they are likely to remain healthy. Another plus is that they eat slugs, snails and rodents, and it is certainly true that we've noticed rather fewer of all three (though with cats, you'd think we wouldn't have much of a mouse problem, but no; and there can never be to great a shortage of slugs and snails to an avid gardener).

They also represent something of a photo opportunity for Sir - well, you'd think so, but not really. They're really difficult to photograph as they are so camera shy. Most of our attempts to photograph them have been through windows ―not always successfully.

Fox cubCats & FoxesThis is a juvenile fox (female, I think). Dog foxes, slightly larger, weigh around 14-16 lbs (8-9kg), which is not much more than a domestic cat.

Did you know that a group of foxes is called a skulk?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milo and Maud on the box bathroom roof, with one of the foxes in the garden and Dudley (our neighbour's cat) having a wash in the background. The cats and foxes live quite amicably.

 

Info on finding an injured foxFound a Sick or Injured Fox?

Call 01933 411996, who will contact your local rescuer. This is the number of the National Fox Welfare Society who operate 24/7. Also, if you see a fox in your area infected with mange, please contact these people. They will arrange free treatment for the animal.

If you live in South Essex/North Kent, you can also call South Essex Wildlife Hospital on 01375 893893. This hospital deals with all injured wildlife across South Essex and North Kent. You can also find animal rescuers in your area at http://www.animalrescuers.co.uk/html/wildcents.html.

http://www.nfws.org.uk/Information on Controlling Your Urban Fox Population

Foxes are self-controlling. Kill off your local foxes and you simply leave a vacancy for another family of foxes. Leave them alone (or better still, supplement their diet to keep them healthy) and they will control their own population. Only the dominant female breeds, while the other females are consigned to babysitting duties. If there are too many foxes in the area, she won't breed at all. If you want to know more, there is excellent information on the National Fox Welfare Society's excellent website. Remember it is illegal to poison foxes.

 

A Few Fox Stories

Moult

Foxes moult during early summer through to autumn, and look rather scraggy during that time. It can be hard to imagine that the sleek chap in his winter coat is the same mangy curr you saw a few months ago. A fox in moult

Amazing Grace

Well, it might have originally been Great Aunt Grace's, though it could have been Great Aunt Adelaide's, or Great Aunt Nell's, but at some point in my childhood I swanked around wearing a dead fox about my neck. He was beautiful (apart from his glassy eyes) with a magnificent tail and rather flat head. At some point I grew horrified at this beautiful creature's ignominious situation and...well, I don't know what became of him. I can't believe I was so soft as to have given him a full burial, but neither would I have binned him. I really don't remember.

Fox cub with tin canA Sad Find

That long and very hot summer of 2003 ended with a very sad find at the end of our garden. Normally, my garden is quite a tidy and tended affair, but we'd been away most of the summer touring up and down the country with the Imps Motorcycle Display Team, and the lawn had turned into something resembling prairie. In September, Sir was hacking down the overgrown grass and discovered the mummified body of a young fox hanging from the fence. It's not a high fence ― only about three feet high ― and the poor thing must have misjudged his leap, slipped and hanged himself between the slats. We think it was a quick death (we certainly hope it was) as there were no marks from his claws on the wood of the fence, as there surely would have been if he hadn't broken his neck immediately. To make matters worse, Sir had made the fence himself.

About a year later, Sir discovered another fox hanging from the neck between the slats of the fence. Fortunately, on this occasion, it had only just happened, the fox hadn't broken its neck, and Sir was able to lift the ungrateful fox from its predicament ― it leapt out of his arms, barked at him and ran off. Sir removed two of the upright slats to allow the foxes to come and go as they please.

An Unnecessary Impalement

In Summer 2006, Sir went into the garden and accidentally startled a young dog fox which jumped over our back gate, impaling its thigh on the horribly long upturned nails studding the top of the gate (there to deter ne'er-do-wells), leaving the poor fellow hanging by its leg. Rather shockingly, the fox immediately started trying to chew through its leg to free itself. By covering its head with a towel to reduce its panic, Sir was able to lift the fox from the gate, but it wriggled out of his arms and ran off, despite its injury. Sir removed all of the nails from the top of the gate.

The same fox returned each evening for its dinner so we were able to keep an eye on its injury. It didn't become infected and over the weeks healed, leaving the fox with a slight limp.

According to thefoxwebsite.org, captive foxes can live for 14 years, but wild foxes rarely live for more than a year or two, and only 3% of London foxes is older than five years, so I couldn't swear to this with any degree of certainty, but I feel sure that the handsome, healthy dog fox we've been feeding for several years is the same fellow. He looks the same, and he has a very slight limp on the same leg, but that would make him about six years as I write this (in May 2010). I suppose the foxes we feed are rather more spoilt than most: they have a good diet; no need to travel far; and a rather nice and fairly protected environment.

A Wild Child

About five o'clock one summer morning in 2009 I woke up to what sounded like the cat flap being torn apart and a cat screaming. I leapt out of bed and passed my cat Charlie on the staircase. There in the hall was a very small, tatty vixen, who turned and dashed back in the garden through the cat flap (which was, indeed, in pieces). Josh (the dog) and I went into the garden and there she was, standing on the roof of my neighbour's fence, belligerently barking at us. She had no intention of backing down, even with Josh (a pointer/greyhound cross) standing next to me. Josh barked back at her while I berated her for being a horrid little minx and, after a couple of minutes, she turned and trotted off along the fences, still effing and blinding at me.

I found Charlie in my bedroom, shaking like a leaf and clearly terrified (and he's a rather big and brave chap normally) with a fairly large flap of torn skin on his ankle. He was still quaking an hour later.

I'd never seen the vixen before and never saw her again. I imagine she was just passing through, so to speak, and very hungry indeed. Being so small, she would easily have been able to get through the cat flap. Perhaps Charlie saw her scoffing his food and took umbrage and tried to kick her out ― and she unexpectedly retaliated. He's lived amicably with foxes all his life, so wouldn't have anticipated her behaviour. The injury to his leg was clean, definitely not a bite and healed without problem, so I suspect it was sustained in the destruction of the cat flap. Poor little thing; I wonder what happened to her?

Our Hero

April 2010, about six o'clock in the morning: our dog fox is sitting on the patio asking for breakfast and I am unable to resist him, so I take some dog food to the middle of the garden for him. He trots away warily and waits for me to go back into the kitchen. At this time of the day, the cats are at their rascally best and the girls won't let the poor boy eat in peace. Phoebe keeps running up to him and making him nervous. Eventually he can stand it no more and chases her back up the garden. Unfortunately, Charlie sees him chasing Phoebe and thinks he means her harm (he doesn't, of course), but Charlie leaps onto the poor boy's back, holding on with his back legs while he batters the fox about the ears with his front paws. I know I shouldn't have been helpless with laughter, but I'm only human. What was even funnier was the girls' reaction to it all. Charlie returned to sit on the patio, while Phoebe, Tia, Mieu and Maud all sat around him in a state of adoration. Honestly.

Beckham the Fox

May 2010: For a few weeks, Maud had been stealing little squeaky balls from somewhere (possibly the spaniel's a few houses along). First one appeared on the patio, then another. Eventually there were at least five of the ugly little things (they all have faces!) before I discovered Maud diving through the cat flap with another one in her mouth. I had thought the foxes were responsible, as they often play with Josh's toys that he leaves in the garden, or we find shredded toys that the neighbouring children have foolishly left out after dark, but it was certainly Maud. She was just about to be spayed and was fast approaching her first season (we had had for the past couple of weeks a fine collection of local tomcats collecting in the garden to woo her), so I suppose the balls were either her 'children' or kills.

One of our foxes (one of last year's cubs, we think) often sits on the patio in the evening and staring longingly through the cat flap ― what riches lie within? Sir and fox have developed this daft nodding game through the kitchen window: Sir nods at fox and tells he/she has aleady been fed. Fox nods back and dances back a few feet before returning to stare at the cat flap. Repeat ad nauseum. Sir started to take out more food to it, but Fox only picks up each morsel daintily, trots back a few feet and caches the food in the gravel. Well, one bored fox and, as it's Wold Cup year: Fox has started to play footie with the ugly balls. We find them neatly lined up on the patio, so he has a touch of the Beckham OCD. Then there's this:

[insert video of fox and Mieu]

Grist to the Mill

Clearly, I love foxes and am happy to share my bit of the planet with them. They've never done me any harm or any living thing that I love any harm. With that in mind, here is a strange but true...

Some years ago, we had a cat called Joshua. He was a beautiful, fine black cat, the son of one of my other cats, Feger. I was there when he was born. He was one of those animals who, whether they are in your life for a brief season or a lifetime, seem to matter a bit more than most of the others. One Sunday in July, when he was two years' old, he was hit by a car (and, I hope, died quickly). I found him on the pavement the next morning where, perhaps, the driver had placed him. I was on the way out to a dance competition with Rhiannon. It was a long day. I cried all day. That evening, we came home and buried my darling Joshua in the garden.

Very early after sunrise the following Saturday, I woke up, sticky and distressed, from a horrible dream: foxes had dug him up. I went into the garden and foxes had indeed dug him up, but not very successfully. He was half-dragged from his obviously too shallow grave. I put him in a few bin liners and put him in the bin. I'm quite a pragmatic person and he was no longer my fine boy. But this episode still distresses me.

Two truths: in the absence of fresh food, foxes are scavengers; a fox will not take on and kill a healthy cat.

Photo Gallery

A few more photos of "our" foxes.

Charlie & fox