Wildlives Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre
The Bare Facts
Foxes are predominantly nocturnal, but it is not unusual to hear reports of foxes seen sunbathing during the day. They usually spend the daylight hours in underground 'earths'. In urban areas, they may find somewhere else to make themselves at home: under somebody's garden shed or in any overgrown area available. Although it may be inconvenient for city dwellers to be living shoulder to shoulder with foxes, this situation has arisen as a result of the destruction of much of the fox's natural habitat, which has forced them to adapt to living amongst people. Even if you do not wish to encourage foxes by putting food out, please at least let them live peacefully without persecution.
In terms of feeding, foxes are opportunists and - particularly in urban environments - will scavenge for anything they can find. Unfortunately, this may include rubbish, junk food scraps, etc. As a result, the diet of the urban fox is often deficient in essential vitamins - which can lead to health problems, such as (it is thought) mange. Part of the reason that urban foxes can look so disreputable therefore is that people drop litter, and do not put out their rubbish in secure bins, leaving it for the foxes to scavenge.
However, both rural and urban foxes will hunt various small birds and animals (rabbits, rodents, chicken) as well as earthworms and beetles, and they will eat fruit and even bird seed. It is the opportunistic nature of the fox that it is important to note: whilst a fox might carry away the body of a cat killed on the road, it would be unlikely to attack a cat - or a dog. Although no coward when under attack itself, the fox - with its keen intelligence - will not seek out conflict.
Issues… Occasionally there are reports in the press about foxes attacking cats. Whilst this is not beyond the realms of possibility, it is very unlikely - for the reasons mentioned above. Most such reports are based on the presumption that, if a cat is injured, and foxes have been seen in the area, the foxes must be to blame; there are rarely, if ever, actual sightings of these supposed attacks. The dubious nature of these claims was brought home to Wildlives staff recently (March 2006), when a fox was admitted with advanced mange - a condition which had left her with practically no fur at all. Although fully grown, she was tiny without her fur: barely any larger than a cat. Combining this with what we already know about the caution of foxes, it seems extremely unlikely that a fox would attack a cat unless either the fox was in desperate straits, or the cat was.
Fox Territories
Foxes are territorial animals: they live in family groups, which will consist of a dominant vixen and dog fox, and may include several other vixens besides.
The number of foxes occupying a particular territory is dependent on the food supply. In other words, fox populations regulate themselves: where there is little food, there will be few foxes. On the other hand, habitats where food is plentiful will support a greater number of foxes - meaning that successive generations of cubs may stay around for longer.
Foxes breed just once a year. Furthermore, only the dominant vixen on a territory will come into oestrus (i.e. into season), and have cubs. The other vixens of the group will not breed, but simply play a supportive role in the rearing of the cubs. Breeding usually occurs sometime between December and February.
The dominant vixen gives birth underground to a litter of 4-5 cubs, and will not reappear above ground for several weeks. During this period, she relies primarily on her mate to hunt and bring back food.
It is at this time that foxes are most territorial - when Wildlives has the largest number of adult fox admissions, and when one most commonly sees foxes lying dead on the road. Foxes are simply more reckless, and take more chances, at this time of year, in defence of their territories.
A fox brought into Wildlives during the breeding season will be treated and released, back where it was found, as quickly as possible - for the displacement of foxes during this period causes serious problems for the vixen, and the cubs, left behind (March 2006).
Issues… This self-regulation means that there is no point killing 'unwanted' foxes - or in capturing them and releasing them elsewhere. If there is a sufficient food supply, another fox will move onto the territory to fill the gap vacated by the fox removed. Although there are methods of deterrence (see the Foxes as Pests page), and our links page anyone who tells you that they can solve your fox problem by killing or removing the fox is fooling you.
Similarly, proponents of fox hunting claim that fox populations need to be 'managed' in order to maintain the balance between over-population - which would inconvenience farmers and large landowners - and under-population which, at worst, would endanger the species as a whole. This is, in a word, rubbish. The old addage applies: 'if it 'ain't broke, don't fix it'. Fox populations are controlled by nature, and it is the height of all arrogance to suggest that nature, operating freely, needs a helping hand.
Fox Cubs
Fox cubs are brown rather than the reddish colour of adult foxes. They are completely blind and deaf in the first week or so after they are born, but will not usually be seen above the surface at this time. On the few occasions when fox cubs only days old are found and rescued by people, there is often confusion as to what exactly they are. A weasel was one suggestion. A kitten was another.
Fox cubs remain in the family group for about eight or nine months, at which point they may leave to seek out their own territories. They become sexually mature at the age of about 10 months.
They do however, have fairly short lives. It has been estimated that the average life span of a wild fox is between 18 months and two years. Foxes in captivity (where they are admitted to a rescue centre with problems that prohibit release), have been known to live for much longer.
Issues… On several occasions, Wildlives has become involved in a sort of tug-of-war with members of the public who have found a cute, fluffy little fox cub and are determined, either to keep it as a pet, or to rear it and release it themselves. We had such tussles for example, in the case of Charlie (August/September 2004), and Ollie (May 2005).
First of all, rearing foxes - as with any animal - is a specialised process and requires a particular knowledge which most people simply do not have. A person may know a lot about wildlife, but this does not make them competent to rear a wild animal. Even people who have worked for years in the field of wildlife rescue have large gaps in their knowledge - but such knowledge is generated in centres such as Wildlives, where foxes are admitted regularly, and where staff are constantly faced with new problems, or new variations on problems.
When baby Ollie was finally admitted, in May 2005, he was very sick from being fed cow's milk, and he had burns on his underside, since the lady who found him had placed him on an unshielded hot water bottle. Wild animals reared by people without any practical experience may die from things like this: minor mistakes which have major consequences.
Rearing fox cubs also requires specialised equipment, facilities, etc - which are not accessible to most people.
Secondly, foxes do not make good pets. Charlie was found by a member of the public and Rosie spent a long time trying to convince the lady to bring him into the Centre. However, it was only when Charlie made the transition from cute fox cub to snarling, biting wild animal that the lady agreed to bring him in. Domestic pets are actually bred to be domestic. Whilst a wild animal may seem suitably pet-like for a little while, it was not take long before its wild instincts emerge.
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