Friday, June 11, 2010

For Fox Sake

The British have a complicated relationship with the fox. To be fox-like is to show cunning, with the implication that one is deceitful, underhand even (as opposed to being 'foxy', which has a whole different meaning.) Those who live in the country distrust the fox implicitly. He kills livestock. He is 'vermin'. A pest. For that reason, he has been hunted as sport since the 16th century. A few years ago, amid all kinds of protests, hunting foxes with dogs was banned.

The debate pitted town against country. Country folk saw the hunting of foxes with dogs as a natural part of the cycle of life. Death is part of that. Animals hunt. The cat hunts the mouse, for example. Yes, town dwellers replied, but cats didn't chase the mouse for five miles wearing a silly hat, riding on a pig, led by a pack of bloodthirsty rats ready to tear it apart when the mouse finally collapsed with exhaustion. The cat often ate the mouse too. Whereas Fox l'orange appears on few menus. Foxes were killed for pleasure. What was wrong with that, other defenders of fox-hunting argued? It was an issue of freedom. Of townies, the majority, imposing their metropolitan ways on the countryside minority. It had its basis in class, too, they argued. Those who practice fox-hunting are, or were seen to be, upper-class, well-to-do, and this was a case of simple envy. They may have had a point. However, most of those arguing for a ban simply believed that hunting foxes with hounds was inhumane. They won. Fox-hunting is now forbidden and the Coalition Government, despite the largest party being the Tories, traditional defenders of hunting and the party of the countryside, have not seen fit to repeal.

That hasn't kept the fox, slippery as ever, out of the public eye. He's now increasingly becoming an urban problem. In the gardens of London, and other cities, the bloodcurdling cry of foxes - which sounds like someone being murdered - is becoming more common. Attracted by swollen rubbish bins and all manner of food to scavenge, the urban fox is not only more prevalent, it seems to be getting bolder. Last weekend it appears a fox made its way though an open patio door in Hackney, London, crept into a bedroom where two nine-month old twin girls slept, and mauled them, injuring both seriously.

Fox attacks on humans are incredibly rare - your average child is far more at risk from the family dog. The fox that patrols my street at night heads for the bushes whenever it sees us. That hasn't stopped the newspapers waxing hysterical, warning us all to keep doors and windows shut tight to prevent our little ones being attacked by these now savage beasts. There have also been calls for a cull. London alone has 10,000 foxes in its midst. That's one heck of a cull.

Of course, out in the country, lots of pro-hunters are sniggering over their Agas. Serves them right, they are saying. Ignorant townies just reaping what they sow. Foxes need to be controlled like any other pest, and now they aren't hunted, there's a growing amount and London gardens are proving a popular habitat. And they won't do anything about it because they think they're cuddly and sweet.

While something might need to be done, country people are just as guilty of endowing the fox with characteristics as we townies. For cuddly and sweet, read vicious and cunning. The fact is foxes are wild animals. No domestication for them. Like most wild animals, they hunt, they scavenge and generally do whatever they can to get by. The idea they are some horrible beast that needs to be slain is as absurd as thinking they'll be rolling on your lawn asking for their bellies to be tickled if you leave a plate of ham out for them every night. But this is Britain. Nation of supposed animal lovers.

Still, if you're looking for an investment in trouble times, now might be the time to get a share or two in companies who make fox traps.


  1. Our problem is coyotes, although we have had fox in the area, too. One of the neighborhood coyotes is bigger than one of my dogs so, although our yard is quite large and completely fenced, they have to go out at night on o short rope.

    We live in a small city but it borders a reservation, land set aside that cannot be sold for building. The area is home to fox and deer as well as snakes (we've had some of those, too.) Even though the reservation is protected, the area around it is booming with the building of homes, shopping malls, and office buildings. As their area is encroached upon, the animals come into ours.

    Even more dangerous to smaller animals in our backyards are raccoons. The neighborhood engaged in a contest: what was going to keep them out of the garbage containers. Bricks, rocks, bungee cords were tried; raccoons won.
    Finally, everyone caved into the lawn and garden stores and purchased containers that lock. Lawn and garden stores won and, to a lesser degree, so did we. The raccoons still how up but they aren't an every night problem.

    Maybe Britain and the US can work on something to trap fox and coyotes?


  2. "Fox hunting: the insufferable in pursuit of the inedible," said Oscar Wilde!

  3. We are in the same situation as Beth. Coyotes are a problem in our town. They seem to be more of a problem for cats here. We never let our cat out after dark and mostly she goes out only when we are around. We have a fox here and there, but I've never heard of them causing much problem. I expect there is enough wild life to keep them happy. Rabbits and so forth. Yesterday I almost ran over an otter as he ran across the road in front of me. I would have been devastated had I hit him, so I'm very glad he was a quick runner.

    Fox hunting seemed to be very much a part of British country life in books I have read. I never much liked the idea of it.


  4. HI all,

    Beth, Jacquie, as your posts demonstrate, I'm certain most places on earth have their wild animals with which they must deal and exist with. The fox is Londoners'. Unfortunately the animal has become politicised almost, so when it does the stuff that animals occasionally do, it's not just part of life and stuff, but townies reaping the whirlwind etc ad nauseam.

    Annamaria - I hope Oscar poured himself a beer after coining that one. Well, a sweet sherry perhaps...

  5. I delighted to read that others have such perky little problems such as coyotes and foxes. Here where I live in Knysna, South Africa, we have to put up with a truly formidable opponent - baboons. We estimate that we have well over 100 baboons on the estate - a number that grows rapidly. Baboons wouldn't be such a problem if it weren't for that other nasty primate - man (and woman) (and kids). Unfortunately humans who visit my gorgeous area feel compelled to feed these baboons, which then habituates the to the likes of peeled bananas, naarties, and other exotic foods. The problem arises when these humans leave. We who live in Sparrebosch, Knysna, do not feed baboons because feeding them results in the baboons ingeniously finding their way into our houses, ripping apart cupboards for edibles and then defecating all over the place both as a result of their feasting as especially if they are disturbed. Thousands of rands worth of damage are easily accumulated.
    A large baboon is enormously powerful and able to rip windows from hinges and arms from torsos. Do not try to tangle with one. The result is inevitable. baboons 1; You 0.

  6. I guess you are not going to be sympathetic about our problem with overpopulation of deer in the areas surrounding NYC. That they eat our garden plants and shrubbery would be bad enough, but they also cause great numbers of auto accidents, some of them fatal to humans as well as the animals. The worst is that they carry ticks infected with up to three different microbes that all cause neurological damage, including blindness. A woman I know who lives in a sizable suburban New Jersey town about 15 miles from the Lincoln Tunnel, found 40 deer on her lawn one morning when she went out to get in her car and leave for work.

    Stan, (we met at Bouchercon last fall!), re the baboons. At my first wilderness camp ever, Savute Safari Lodge in Botswana, a traveling companion warned me that baboons could be dangerous. Immediately after I arrived, the critters tried to follow me into my cabin. I tried to shoo them in English. They did not move. I repeated my commands several times. No response. It wasn't until I cried "Vai via!" ("Get out" in Italian) that they fled. How do you suppose they learned Italian?

  7. The baboons understand English and Italian, but because they disapprove of how the English treat foxes, they pretend not to understand the former. The universal way to get rid of things - dogs, people, baboons, etc. - in southern Africa is to shout "Voetsek!!!" (The exclamation marks are important.)

  8. Okay, I've got the answer to your secret, Dan. In order to draw a crowd of comments to a post, the subject has to be either Red Sox or Red Fox (that's one "x").

    About twenty years ago I spent a Christmas in Castle Combe (that's in England for the Pittsburghers out there) and one morning joined our host at a fox an observer. What I remember most was the size and condition of the hounds. I do not remember ever seeing more wellkept, healthy animals. Funny isn't it, how the pursuit of one fox kept so many other animals (let's not forget the horses) in such a state of well being.

    At my farm outside of NYC we have deer, coyotes, bears (up to 300 kilos), raccoons, foxes and a lot of other land based creatures (I won't mention the bald eagles and osprey). But no baboons, though I think I'll hang on to "VOETSEK!!! because it might come in handy some time.

    The difference in my part of the NYC area from a lot of others closer in toward the City is that the nuisance types have learned to be respectful because my area has a strong hunting tradition. It also has some of the strongest conservation measures that actually do prevent unwanted construction. That's a point often missed in the protect wildlife debate.