Saturday, 26 June 2010
I thought I liked foxes.
I spent childhood Saturdays at the Natural History Museum Club. One week someone came in with a pair of soft grey fox-cubs, rescued from their den after their mother had been killed. Their protector brought them back, week after week. They were bottle-fed at first, then weaned onto raw meat as their grey down gave way to red and their faces acquired an adult point. I think there was a plan to release them back into to the wild but I never heard the ending of the story.
Most of the animals I admire are predators. I love the swoop of falcons and eagles – growing up on the ninth floor of a towerblock, I sometimes watched the stoop of sparrowhawks from above in the expanse of sky above Richmond Park. I never feared the coil of a snake and would willingly handle boas and pythons when the animal-man brought them to school. I saw the young foxes grow strong on bloody meat and never doubted their violence.
Encounters with foxes were rarities. I remember deer, rabbits, and badgers in the park – we made special trips to watch them at dawn and dusk – but I think I was an adult when I first sighted a fox in the wild.
“The wild” is an inexact description. It was an urban fox – nervous at night – running across a road. It was hard to be sure it was a fox and not a cat. It was small and some way off. I was enchanted, even though the fox was probably on its way to raid a bin filled with remnants of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The encounter - like many later ones – fulfilled my affection for the untamed. I like the word “feral.”
In the past two months, I've seen several foxes, and begun to wonder if I still like them as much as I did. Urban foxes stroll the pavements of our quiet suburban street in daylight – they sometimes turn to glare. Usually I see just one at a time but there are more than one – a friend, giving me a lift home, caught sight of two outside the gates of different houses. I found one in the garden, two yards away. It lifted its head and looked at me without anxiety. I clapped my hands and shouted until finally it turned and slowly made its way through a gap in the hedge. The foxes seem larger than any I've previously seen in town.
There are stories in the local press about foxes attacking cats – we haven't yet had local stories about foxes attacking children but there have been some in the national papers. Something seems to have changed in the balance of species - I don't know if the new conditions have been created by the hard winter or infrequent bin collections or some other factor. I don't think it's related to the hunting ban – we're a very long way from the nearest hunt and no-one is going to suggest pursuing foxes through tarmac streets crowded with houses and people. Perhaps it's a side-effect of new building developments – could this be another reason to blame Tesco whose vast building site scars our town and whose placards promise an unwanted superstore?
I worry about my cat Joe, who arches his back and prepares to defend his territory when he sees a fox (or dog). I want to keep him in the house but he has his own streak of wildness and needs the outdoors. Like the fox, he's a hunter. He wears a collar with bell - I don't want him to attack – but not all the birds he brings home survive, though my son does his best to rescue and revive them.