Wildlives Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre
It is beyond staff at Wildlives how anyone could dislike a fox. However, evidently in some quarters, foxes are regarded as 'pests' or 'vermin' (although they are not classified as vermin by law). Why is this?
Foxes have a long-standing reputation for killing and injuring livestock
Particularly in urban environments, where foxes may be bolder and more often seen, some people are concerned about their physical aggressiveness.
It is thought that foxes spread disease.
Foxes may make a mess of a person's garden through digging and fouling.
Killing and Injuring Livestock
People complain about foxes killing their chickens. Occasionally, there are instances where a fox gets into a hen house and kills all the chickens there.
Why would it do this? Why kill more than it can eat? The explanation for this may partly be that, when people make it easy for a fox by cooping their chickens up in an insecure henhouse, the fox is not about to turn the other cheek. However, if a fox gets into a henhouse and is faced with numerous squawking, flapping chickens, it may become over-excited - and it will go into a frenzy and kill the lot. This is due to natural instinct: a terrier might do the same thing.
How then, does one keep chickens safely?
The way to do it is to have fox-proof fencing and a secure henhouse. At Wildlives, the chickens spend the day outside and, every evening, the door to the hen house is opened and all the chickens dutifully troop inside. Once they are in, the door is closed and they remain locked in until morning. If Wildlives can keep foxes enclosed, you can keep foxes out and your chickens and pets safe!!
Unfortunately, not everyone bothers with good animal husbandry. Penny was an old fox: scarred and battle-worn, but very very gentle. She was admitted following a road traffic accident which smashed one of her rear legs. The leg had to be amputated, but the loss of a rear leg is not fatal to a fox's chances of survival in the wild. Penny recovered well from her operation, and returned to full health. She was taken back and released where she was found. After that, there were several reported sightings of a three-legged fox sunbathing on the grass. However, some months later, we heard that a fox with
only three legs had been shot by a local man after it had taken several of his chickens. What can we say (apart from 'YOU IDIOT!')? Hundreds of pounds in food, vets bill and after-care - and one very lovely foxy life - down the drain just because one man didn't know how to look after chickens properly.
Physical Aggression
There is no doubt that foxes can inflict a nasty bite but, as a general rule, they reserve their aggression for small prey, or for situations where they feel under threat.
One of the reasons why foxes are so admired at Wildlives is their intelligence. When a fox is admitted, it will be usually be muzzled in order that Rosie may examine it without getting bitten, or having to resort
to anaesthetic. However, she always says that, after that one occasion, she will never be able to get a muzzle on it again - and she is usually right. Foxes learn very quickly: you will only get away with something once.
This intelligence - in combination with years of persecution - makes foxes extremely cautious creatures and, in consequence, very unlikely to attack any creature anywhere near its own size. Thus, attacks on cats and dogs are unlikely (see Facts and Issues page), as are attacks on children (who thought that one up?!). ?!). In short, you do not have to worry about being bitten by a fox unless you have one cornered, or are yourself bent on harming it.
Another thing that seems to make foxes unpopular is the idea that they spread disease. Again, this is simply not true - it is just that it is convenient for people to blame foxes.
The condition that people seem to worry about most is mange. Mange is not contagious from foxes to humans. There are numerous species that suffer from the problem (including humans) but the varieties of mange that they get are different - they do not cross-contaminate. Dogs and foxes, both being canines, share the same type of mange, but the care that most dogs receive from their owners will prevent their catching the condition from foxes.
If you see a fox with mange therefore, do not start worrying about your cats or your children or whatever - instead, have a little concern for the fox itself. Mange is an extremely painful and debilitating problem for foxes and, untreated (which of course, it usually is), it can kill them. If you have a mangy fox that comes into your garden regularly, the National Fox Welfare is prepared to send out homeopathic treatments that can be put out in honey sandwiches or some other kind of food. These treatments are not harmful to other animals (as veterinary drugs are) and seem to have a high success rate.
In cases of advanced mange however - where there is extensive fur loss - the fox will need to be caught, using a humane trap, and admitted to a rescue centre for more conventional treatment.
Digging and Fouling
This is one of the most common reasons people give for disliking foxes. Occasionally, someone will phone Wildlives and say 'I have fox cubs playing in my garden, and they're ruining my flower beds. Will you come and remove them please?' The question is always met with disbelief, and the answer is always an emphatic 'no'!
For one thing, as already made clear, removing foxes will not help: other foxes will move in to take the space vacated. Secondly, to remove healthy fox cubs from a safe area would be a needless interference with nature. Thirdly, why would anyone not want fox cubs playing in their garden?!
If you have 'problem foxes', please bear in mind the situation of the fox today. Foxes are blamed for all sorts of things - and are persecuted all over the country by the more intolerant farmers and landowners and those ordinary people who will not put up with the actually very slight impact that foxes have on their lives. If you live in an urban area, the foxes are there because much of their natural, rural habitat has been destroyed (by human development). Foxes in towns and cities may occasionally be inconvenient for people, but it is even more inconvenient for the foxes - who, not only have to put up with people, but survive on a very bad diet, and seem more susceptible to disease as a result.
Given the inevitability of human development and expansion, we have to learn to live with wildlife, and make space for it amid the various paraphernalia of good living. Does it matter so much if a fox makes a mess on your lawn, or tears open your rubbish bags? Clear up the mess, and buy a more secure dustbin. Some people seem to resort to calling in the death squad for trivialities such as these - but it is cruel and intolerant, not to mention unnecessary to do so. Foxes are only a problem if people make them so.
Deterrent Dos and Don'ts
Do Try one of the spray repellents or deterrent devices that seem to be effective. See our links page for more information.
Do Cover flower beds with netting, to protect them, if you have young, playful cubs in your garden
Do Buy a more effective dustbin to put your rubbish out in - like one of the tall wheelie bins with a snap-close lid
Do Leave a hole in the garden fence, to placate a fox that keeps damaging it.
Do If you keep chickens, put them to bed in a secure shed at night, and erect fox-proof fencing around the coop to deter foxes. If you keep rabbits or guinea pigs in outside hutches, make sure they are secure.
Do Read the other pages of this help sheet and decide that foxes are not quite so bad after all.
Don't Try to poison a 'problem fox'. This is illegal and indiscriminate in its effects (you may end up killing someone's cat).
Don't Hire someone who claims they can get rid of your foxes for you. They can't; you will be wasting your money. As soon as the one has gone, another will move on the territory vacated.
Don't Be concerned about disease or physical aggression. So long as you leave them alone, foxes are harmless.
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