Fox is no lamb to the slaughter

While some people regard the fox as a pest and an unwanted predator, the animal can keep down the rabbit, mice, and rat populations.

A six-year-old boy excitedly running for binoculars to see a fox in the middle of a field recently showed me children’s fascination with wildlife.

The wide-eyed lad had previously only seen photographs and drawings of the madra rua and he was now looking at the real thing, apparently scratching for worms, over a fence from a few hundred metres.

Most people agree the fox population has been increasing, aided by mild winters, abundant food, and the huge cover provided by forestry in many areas.

We see more foxes crossing roads at night, and also in the open countryside during the day, even though the animal is generally nocturnal. More than once, I’ve seen a fox cross the lawn outside the window beside which I’m now sitting.

Foxes in urban areas are well-documented. But their presence in cities and towns should not come as a surprise, for they are highly adaptable and source food wherever they can.

All these factors are prompting calls for the fox population to be controlled by shooting. Wildlife and animal rights groups are obviously opposed to that.

Rathcormac Gun Club, in north Cork, says the fact that some hunters are no longer shooting foxes is ‘’unfortunate’’, as the population needs to be managed, for the sake of other species and to prevent the spread of disease.

“Cute, innocent, and joyful is what most people envision, when they think of them, but the management of the fox still needs to take place to help balance the habitat they thrive in and prevent over-preying of other species,” says the club.

Sheep farmers say the fox preys on lambs, but this claim is rebutted by surveys, which show predation causes as little as 5% of lamb deaths and foxes are more likely to eat already dead lambs. According to Sean Mannion, Teagasc advisor in Clare/Galway, cold and starvation are the biggest killers of lambs, accounting for 50% of mortality.

Some farmer friends tell us their poultry are regularly attacked by foxes. But properly secured hen houses and chicken runs should keep the fox at bay, not to mention an alert dog around a farmyard.

Wildlife organisations say providing adequate protection for domestic fowl, which might include electric fencing, would be cheaper and more effective than killing foxes.

While some people regard the fox as a pest and an unwanted predator, the animal can keep down the rabbit, mice, and rat populations.

Though seen by some as an enemy, the often-persecuted fox, sometimes hunted for its pelt, is thriving. Truly a great survivor, worthy of its place in folklore.


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