Fox and ‘fake baby experiment’ raises concerns

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The report from the Field sports channel of how a south London pest controller filmed a fox grabbing a ‘fake baby’ has prompted quite a reaction amongst our readers.

A number of our readers have read, and been concerned, by the news utem concerning the ”fake baby” in the January & Februry (issue 19) of Pest magazine – click here to read – contacted us by email and have expressed real concern that calling this an experiment makes it sound far too scientific. They said that it should not be surprising when a fox, which, after all said and done, is a scavenger, makes off with a dead piglet dressed in a child’s clothes.

Steve Holmes from Holmes Pest Control was one of the first to contact us. He writes:
I”ve just read the article and watched the video on the Fieldsports channel, which purports to ”prove” that foxes are likely to take babies out of prams.

Firstly, let me say I”m no lover of foxes and as a professional pest controller understand the need to manage populations of pest species but I”m surprised that this was presented as an ”experiment” and not what it truly was, propaganda from an organisation with an axe to grind.

It”s clear from watching the video that the fox doesn”t attempt to ”kill” the ”baby”. Why? Because it obviously knew it was a dead piglet. Foxes like their canine cousins are famous for having a superior sense of smell. The fox was simply responding to his senses and had tracked down a source of food not a crying baby. It could smell bacon and blood not a baby!

If the Field sports channel wants to spend time and money carrying out structured and scientifically accurate experiments to prove the risk of Fox attacks on babies and small children then I would be happy to accept it. Until such time I would like to see a publication such as yours presenting a more level and considered opinion.

This evening I will try my own experiment and leave a slice of bacon on the kitchen table with a post it note saying ”This is not bacon” and I wouldn”t mind betting that my 14 year old arthritic cat will still find it and eat it! That”s about as scientific as ”Dave”s” experiment. If it works I”ll send you a video of the cat reading the note and walking away.

John Bryatt from Humane Urban Wildlife Deterrence uses another colourful analogy to express a similar view:
Thanks for latest edition of Pest”. However, I can”t understand why you think that it is significant that a fox ran off with a dead piglet that was wrapped in a baby-grow and left out in a garden by “Dave” an anonymous pest controller involved with a blooodsports TV channel.

You might as well claim that if you wrap a lump of beef in David Beckham”s shorts and the fox runs off with it, footballers are likely to be savaged to death by a fox!

I have worked with foxes for four decades and never come across an aggressive one. Following the Hackney ”baby twins” incident in June 2010, which is the only so-called ”fox attack” I know of that hasn”t later proved to have been a domestic dog attack, Defra issued the following statement: “Recent events have heightened public concern about urban foxes, however attacks of this kind are extremely rare and we have no records of any other such attacks in recent years.”

Since we posted this story, Gary Williams from Urban Wildlife has added his thoughts. He writes:
I read, with disbelief, the article published and felt compelled to leave a comment. It is hard enough to try and convince the general public that their cats are safe from scavenging foxes without instilling in their minds that their children are under threat too. This type of ”scaremongering” only makes the job of the professional fox controller a whole lot harder.

In over 20 years of controlling urban foxes, we have not recorded any incidents of fox attacks on infants. I totally agree that the feeding of urban foxes contributes fully to them losing fear of humans, however, I also appreciate the foxs” ability to tell the difference between a human and a piglet. Again, we go back to the facts that people humanise animals too much – just because it was dressed in a baby grow and it may look like a small baby to us, from a distance, to the fox it would have smelled like ”dinner!”

The placing of a dead baby piglet in a pram does not have any scientific controls or methods attached to it, other than proving that foxes are opportunists and will eat an easy meal, however it is provided. I would like to thank ”Dave” from the Field Sports Channel for making my and every other fox controllers job just that little bit harder.

Editor’s Note
We printed this article because we thought it would interest pest controllers and that’s certainly proved the case. We in no way intended to take sides in the debate about urban foxes and the risks, if any, they pose to young children. If you’ve got any different views on this topic please do get in touch.

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