"An Analysis of the Habits of the Urban Fox" by Anita Goveas

(a transcription of the presentation given by Rupa Deshpande at the University of Lancaster in July 2016)

What’s your image of an urban fox?

A pony-sized dirty beast that lives off take-aways, attacks cats and bites babies? It’s only their postcode that’s different to a regular fox. Foxes move between urban and country settings, and they only attack out of fear. Not uncommon in mammals.

Which means the man that just screamed at me was afraid of me. I hadn’t thought of that.

Still sure you’ve seen a giant fox?

As you can see from these photos, urban foxes are not any bigger than foxes found in the countryside. Many things can affect our perception -- most urban fox encounters are at night, they’re often swift and sudden, we’ve built up a picture of a giant animal and see what we expect. Urban foxes have been around for a while now, but somehow, we’re still not used to having them in our lives.

So maybe that man was projecting? Didn’t really see me, just an image of his dread? I hadn’t even noticed him.

Why are they always in my garden?

There are many reasons for this, and will vary between foxes. You, the previous owners or your neighbours may leave food out for birds or indeed, the foxes. Not everyone is trying to get rid of them. You have a shed or decking or an overgrown corner, and they’re seeking some security. You always leave your wellies out, and they have cubs and want to play. You have cats or dogs and they can smell the food. If you’ve created the perfect environment for an animal very similar to them, a fox won’t know it’s not wanted.

I could have shouted back that I was born here, that this is my home. But doesn’t that mean I think people who aren’t born here don’t belong?

Why is the population increasing?

There’s actually no evidence for that. We don’t really collect data about this, but the last estimate in the 1980s was 30,000 and there doesn’t seem to have been any significant increase since then. In fact, there was recently a huge mange epidemic, so the numbers have probably gone down. There might be pockets of increase but it’s not the bigger picture.

I wanted to yell back, I’m on my way to give a lecture, you’re the disgrace. As if I needed to prove myself. As if his emotion was catching.
Why don’t we just cull them?

There are strong suggestions that foxes are useful, even if we don’t notice that. They eat a lot of rats, all big cities have large populations of these.  But definitely culling doesn’t work, new foxes move in, if foxes are removed they tend to come back. Fox populations, if undisturbed, tend to be fairly self-regulating. 

I wonder if he’ll even remember this. Is he at home now, with his friends or family? I can still see his face, all red and crumpled, but I don’t think he could describe me apart from my skin. I’ll try and forget him too.

Thank you for listening.