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Jan 24

The Urban Myths of Urban Foxes

If one British mammal has caused more controversy than badgers over the past few years, it must surely be the red fox. There has been quite a lot of anti-fox hype recently. If the media is to be believed, the population of urban foxes is rising and so, too, are fox attacks on small children. The government has even started thinking about culling these animals in certain areas. Is a cull indeed called for, or is all of this just complete paranoia? It’s time to shed some light on the urban myths of urban foxes.

Urban Myth #1: The number of urban foxes is constantly rising

Reality: Foxes have been moving into our towns and cities from the countryside for many decades now. It’s hardly surprising – humans are a very wasteful species and the leftovers that we leave lying around prove irresistible to many animals. In North America, raccoons have taken advantage of this; in Britain, it is the red fox.

But that doesn’t mean that the red fox population is always rising. Most cities reached the maximum supportable population of foxes some years ago and have remained stable ever since. If anything, because their numbers crashed in the 1990s due to the spread of mange, there are probably less of them than there were a few decades ago.

Urban Myth #2: Culling foxes can control their numbers

Reality: The idea of culling foxes is almost laughable. People who are calling for such a cull ought to remember that it has actually been tried before – for over 30 years, in fact – and it failed spectacularly. As foxes were killed in our urban areas, countryside foxes simply moved in to take their place.

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Photo: John Leffmann

Urban Myth #3: Foxes pose a threat to our pets

Reality: Despite numerous stories to the contrary, foxes pose very little threat to cats, dogs, rabbits or even chickens. Foxes may be smart, but they are easily deterred by a well-secured cage or enclosure, so your outdoor rabbits and birds should be fine. And as for cats… well, a healthy, well-fed cat usually has no problem scaring off any fox they run into.

Urban Myth #4: Foxes pose a threat to us

Reality: In February of last year, a fox entered a home in South London and attacked a baby, who had to have his finger reattached at hospital. In 2010, a fox crept into a house in Hackney and attacked a pair of twins in their bedroom, scarring them. How these animals keep managing to get into people’s house undetected is anyone’s guess, but surely this is proof that foxes can – and indeed do – pose a threat to young children at the very least?

I severely doubt it. The fox attacks on young children over the past few years are exceptionally isolated incidents. Dog attacks are much more common, and there is usually at least one fatal dog attack in England every year. Bees kill, on average, around eight people in England per year, but we seldom hear the media making such a frenzy over them, do we? In the eighty years or so since foxes have been sharing our cities, how many fatal fox attacks have there been? None. Zero. Nil. That’s not to say there won’t ever be a fatal fox attack, but it goes without saying that there are far more dangerous animals out there to make a fuss over.

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Photo: Keven Law

And despite the foxes’ seeming obsession with entering children’s rooms, they don’t always do so will ill intent. On one occasion, a woman went into her baby’s room to find a fox happily chewing on the toys, uninterested by the young child that was there.

There’s a growing trend in the government as of late. As soon as a wildlife ‘problem’ comes to light – badgers carrying bovine TB, buzzards preying on pheasants raised for shooting, and now ‘too many’ urban foxes – they immediately come to the same default response: cull them. And, sadly, it looks to be a trend that isn’t going to stop any time soon.

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