The clever fox is also a city boy

A RECENT attack by a fox on a month-old baby, in London, has highlighted the fact that the madra rua is as much an urban as a rural animal.

On a visit to the British capital, not long ago, I was surprised to see a fox moving fearlessly along a street in a residential area. Locals made little wonder of it and said it wasn’t their first time seeing a fox.

Indeed, a family member living in the area had a story to tell. She was in the habit of leaving her back door open in fine weather, but found that items were mysteriously disappearing from the house.

Then, one day, the woman saw a fox heading up the garden. The fox had one of the woman’s shoes in its mouth.

The old saying, "as cute as a fox" has a deal of truth in it: we’re talking about a cunning and opportunistic animal. There’s a practical reason for the fox adapting to town and city life — easy food pickings left out by humans.

Irish urban dwellers have become accustomed to foxes in their back gardens. Some encourage these visitors by leaving out food and treating them like pets. But it’s better to never forget that you’re dealing with unpredictable, wild animals, and you never know what they might do, if cornered.

Animal welfare societies say attacks by foxes on humans are extremely rare, and the fox is more afraid of humans than they are of it.

Reported attacks concern babies and young children, usually in their homes and bedrooms.

A baby’s cries can attract a fox. People trying to catch foxes, for example, sometimes use recordings of rabbit cries as a lure, which can be uncannily similar to those of a baby.

So, quite likely, the fox can be drawn by a baby crying and can creep into a house unnoticed.

The fox has become a pest in urban areas, and authorities in England are talking about a culling, which will be very difficult to carry out. There are an estimated 30,000 foxes in urban Britain.

Meanwhile, increased fox activity at night along country roads here in Ireland has been observed in recent weeks, as males have been on the prowl during the mating season.

If you listen carefully on a still night, you may still hear the triple bark of dog foxes, as they stake out their territories and try to attract vixens.

The young can be expected to arrive in March and April.