Thursday 10 June 2010

A wrong Charlie

Amazing news about the fox in London that entered a house, went upstairs and jumped into a cot to chew on nine month-old twins. Horrific, of course, but also just astonishing that it would be so bold. Urban foxes have been around for a long time, but clearly their behaviour is evolving as they learn to co-exist with - and live off - humans.

Probably the anti-hunting fuss of a few years ago worked in their favour, as city-dwellers noticed them more and probably made a point of attracting them into their gardens. It's understandable: they're beautiful animals. Even the most avid fox-hunter will happily agree that there's a lot to admire - that fabulous shape and colour, their grace and speed, their cleverness. When I lived in England, it was always a thrill to see one flitting across the road or through a wood, and hearing that wild and eerie scream at night is spine-tingling. They have no natural predator in England though, and they've always needed to be controlled in the country, and perhaps now in the cities too.

I once chased a fox that came into our paddock and seized one of my hens in the middle of a summer afternoon. I was in shorts, barefoot, but I hurtled after that blasted animal, over a barbed wire fence and through waist-high nettles (and if you've never felt the sting of an English nettle, you've never known pain), furious that it had my chicken clamped in its jaws. I got the hen back, found dumped in the bed of the stream, but it was dead by then. At least I did the fox out of its dinner.

Fortunately the pioneers here in NZ stopped short of introducing foxes, which really would have been the end of our flightless birds; but they did in Australia, and are still battling to control them: they and the feral cats there are making huge inroads on the native species. For a long time, Tasmania was fox-free, but a few years ago there was state panic when a dead female was found on a road in the north; since when they've resigned themselves to losing a good number of their unique and pretty little furry marsupials, like quolls, bilbies and bettongs. They still don't know how the fox got across Bass Strait - it's hard to imagine anyone being so stupid as to bring it in on purpose, but how else?

Dead possum in the gutter at the bottom of our road this morning, I'm happy to report. And the fox in the photo is Britt, taken in by the lovely people at Cooberrie in Queensland.

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