London, a playground for 10,000 urban foxes
By Jacques Klopp, AFPLONDON--To some they are a nuisance, even a danger. To others, London's 10,000 foxes are a delightful reminder that this concrete wilderness is teeming with wildlife.
August 28, 2013, 12:01 am TWN
The ruddy brown creatures seem out of place on the streets of the British capital — but they are now so common that 70 percent of Londoners will have seen one slinking around in the last week, according to a recent survey.
For some city-dwellers, the red fox is the ultimate nightmare neighbor.
Many a Londoner will have had a night's sleep ruined by a fox's eerie screeching, only to wake and find their rubbish bins have been upturned. To add insult to injury, the scavenging fox will have left a stench of musk behind.
With their flashing eyes and razor-sharp teeth, the foxes have even been characterized as a menace.
There have been a spate of reports of babies attacked in their cots by foxes in recent years, though animal rights campaigners say the dangers are wildly exaggerated.
In June, London's mayor Boris Johnson reignited a long-running debate over whether the animals should be culled — by jokingly suggesting that the traditional sport of fox hunting, outlawed in Britain since 2005, should be legalized in the capital.
“This will cause massive unpopularity and I don't care,” said the colorful mayor, who said he was driven to speak out after his cat was apparently attacked by one of London's foxes.
“If people want to get together to form the fox hounds of Islington (a leafy north London borough), I'm all for it.”
There are some 33,000 urban foxes in Britain and a third reside in the capital, according to research by Bristol University. A further 250,000 live in rural areas.
“They are adaptable animals which can eat many kinds of food and are by nature opportunists,” said Calie Rydings of the animal charity RSPCA.
“So it is not surprising that they can be found in some towns and cities.”
Fox Lovers Dismiss 'attack' Tales
With its large parks as well as thousands of houses with private gardens, London is a paradise for foxes.
They have been a part of the city landscape since the 1930s, when the urban sprawl began to encroach on their rural territory.
Despite the complaints, the foxes have mostly cohabited happily with their human neighbors.
Some 86 percent of people like the animals, according to a poll for Channel 4 TV. Another survey by Bristol University found that 10 percent of Londoners regularly feed them.
Britain has some of the highest-density fox populations in the world, according to Stephen Harris, professor of environmental sciences at Bristol.