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Comment: Fox problem is serious and deserves to be treated as such
Anyone who heard the news last weekend that a fox had attacked a five week old baby in London and severed its finger will have had an emotive reaction.
Unsurprisingly it wasn’t long after the news broke that there were calls for a cull of urban foxes.
This course of action appeared to have a crude and brutal arithmetic underpinning it – fewer foxes equals less chance of infants being savaged.
But in the days following the attack, the public debate took on an unsettling tinge of mass hysteria.
There has been a scattering of stories about foxes attacking humans over the last few years. Closer to home, the Watford Observer has reported some incidents of foxes and humans coming into closer contact than is comfortable for either species.
In November a woman in Bushey got a shock when she discovered a fox in her bathroom and in this week’s paper, there is a story about a Watford widower who lost his cat in a suspected fox attack.
These incidents are obviously a far cry from an attack on an infant, but they hint at an increasing proximity between us and our vulpine neighbours.
On Monday, I listened to a debate on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme involving an expert on urban foxes, who has studied their behaviour since the early 1970s, and the former head of a pest control association.
The upshot of the interview was that the current problems stem from humans inadvertently breaking down the behavioural barriers between foxes and human homes.
This is mainly due to people feeding foxes and encouraging them into their houses, presumably under the misapprehension they are pets in the making.
This apparently leaves foxes with the impression they can come into human houses as they scavenge for food.
The conclusion of the debate was that an urban fox cull would do little to prevent further attacks. A more effective solution was to educate people to keep a safe distance from these feral animals and to target problem foxes.
I suspect despite what experts say the calls for a mass fox slaughter will persist.
But without any informed underpinning, calls for a cull seem to take on a bizarre dint of revenge. A bloody catharsis for a horrified public.
Perhaps we should cull urban foxes. Pile their corpses high in Marble Arch for passersby to jeer at. We could even gibbet a few and stick some fox heads on spikes to show others what happens when they breach the Pax Humana. There is an atavistic sense of justice to it.
Yet the calls for a cull look suspiciously knee-jerk and do not stand up to more informed opinions. It is an understandable knee-jerk considering the disturbing details of the attack.
And if a cull was deemed a necessary and effective solution, who could argue against it?
Nevertheless the starting point for any action should be solely the aim of reducing the likelihood of another attack.
If that happens to be more targeted measures, or even something as banal as more education, then that’s where resources should be targeted.
Although the reaction to this attack will have been emotional, the decision over any action taken should be purely rational.