Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals – 7- The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

What a beauty! Those typical vulpine features. Short-ish limbs, with often a squat, slinky posture. Those big triangular ears (they have exceptionally sensitive hearing), those gorgeous eyes and a tiny, boopable snoot! It is a beautiful animal. (Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program CC-BY-NC 2.0)

CONTENT WARNING: This article contains a lot of strong language and, after debating with myself a lot, I have decided to include images of foxes hunted by hounds that some people may find upsetting or disturbing.

Perhaps not in the rest of the world, but certainly here in the UK, the fox is a contradiction. According to a study by BBC wildlife in 2008 they are the UK’s third most popular mammal behind the otter and the hedgehog. They are our only extant species of wild canid, one of few even remotely sizeable predators left on the island and thus a huge contributor to farm health with their predation of seed pests like birds but certainly of rabbits.

Sheep farmers report that they definitely feel the impact of foxes. A study of Welsh farmers had 96% of them saying predation on lambs was impacting their income, and 75% said they had seen an increase in that predation since the hunting ban in 2005.

Ooh look! A twat in its natural habitat! Countryside folk are often worrying about the cost of foxes to their endeavours until it involves paying to keep horses, hounds and buy fucking stupid outfits to pursue their little hobby. This man can fuck off. (Credit: Kim Salmons CC-BY-NC ND 2.0)

What I don’t believe was asked in these surveys is how many of them enjoyed hunting and killing foxes. I think that would be an important question to ask and one which self-reporting is probably going to get a lot of lying “Oh, no! Absolutely not, no…It’s just necessary.” From people who literally play dress-up to go and do it. Fuck off.

I’m going to be honest, in the course of writing these articles sheep farmers are really starting to piss me off. Any reintroduction of a native predator seems to be held up by the farming lobby on behalf of sheep farmers. Have you tried to buy lamb in a UK supermarket recently? It’s fucking expensive. It is the quintessential middle-class meat. Pork and chicken are the cheap meats, you can pick those up for a midweek meal. A nice slab of beef is a premium, but worth investing for a Sunday Roast, as a small joint of beef can go a long way. Lamb is a special occasion food, expensive per kilo, loses a lot to shrinkage as it roasts due to a high fat and moisture content. It’s an Easter Roast, it’s a birthday roast. It’s not every day, because it’s so damn expensive.

Lamb shanks that used to be a cheap cut are now £5 a pop for a fucking tendon-tough lamb ankle you have to braise for hours!

Lamb is posh-twat meat!

About the cheapest version of it you can get, at least unadulterated, is a handful of cubes of marinated lamb in a kebab from your local kebab shop and even then the price per meat ratio is off the charts. You’re better off buying whatever your kebab shop’s version of a mixed kebab is to get the most meat per pound sterling. The lamb shish is the bougie option on the standard UK kebab joint menu.

Again, I want so much to respect farmers and farming but so many of their practices are harmful to the environment and their lobby is so powerful against environmental interests that it becomes very fucking hard to actually like them. I get that they want to keep their jobs and livelihoods, and I get that they help feed a nation but…Lamb isn’t fucking bread, is it? It’s not a daily staple. I can get a 1.5-2kg chicken for around the same price I could get 200g of lamb chops. This is not peasant cuisine, they’re not doing this for the good of the masses and if they’re not making enough money per sheep then they need to have a chat with the supermarkets about what they’re getting paid because them motherfuckers are marking up prices like crazy, if that’s the case. Especially since lamb offal is also delicious.

A diagram from the organisation ‘Farming First’ demonstrating losses in global biodiversity due to agricultural practices. As you can see, agriculture is the single biggest threat to global biodiversity. As the human population grows (which it is doing exponentially) it will need even more land to be turned over to food development, or more sustainable practice. I cannot attest to the accuracy of these data as I could not find a link to the study that provided it. (Credit: Farming First, Used without Permission)

Lamb hearts!? Ooh, give ‘em a good wash (get the blood out, it can taste bitter), cut the big, veiny bits out, snip the chordae tendineae (the literal heart-strings) or else they can curl and toughen the meat during cooking. Stick a peeled clove of garlic under each half, salt, pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander, on a high heat for 25-35 minutes depending on how well-done you like your meat. One of the best tasting lamb muscles you could hope for. Heart meat is good meat! Cheap, too. I think a pack of about 500g (usually 2-3 hearts) is around £2-3.  Organ meat is best meat. Use the whole damn animal.

Anyway, the point is the sheep farming lobby seems to hold a significant amount of power when it comes to the  management of our Great British wildlands. The interests of Sheep farmers (who live for approximately 80 years) seems to trump the interests of the local ecosystems that live for, ooh, give or take a glacial period here or there, hundreds of thousands to millions of years. I don’t think that’s right and I think it is the duty of farmers to find a way to co-habit a countryside more natural and wild than it is the job of that habitat to accommodate farmers. I cannot stress enough, the Earth, nature, the environment – It doesn’t give a shit about you. It’s your job to survive it, not its job to provide for you.

Why does this upset me in regards to foxes?

One of the reasons this upsets me in regards to foxes. A disemboweled fox, likely the result of a dog-led hunt. The dogs are not quick or painless in their treatment of the fox, indeed it is a torturous process from start to finish. (Credit:[IFAW UK] CC-BY-3.0)

We’re talking about one of the, if not the most, widespread wild canid on the planet. One that is ridiculously successful. We’re talking IUCN ‘Least Concern’ successful! We’re talking urban environment successful!

Along with the Canis genus, the wolves, the Vulpes, the foxes, are believed to have crossed the Beringia land bridge from North America (where all canids come from) into Asia. They radiated out from there and frankly conquered the lot.

Thus they are still a presence in North America, excluding a fair amount of the South and a lot of the Western wilderness, although they do have a presence on the Pacific North West. They are also highly disperse across most of Europe, down into North Africa, along the Nile, and across the Arabian Peninsula heading over into most of Asia, including most of India and East Asia. There is also an introduced, non-native (and probably quite problematic) population in Australia, too.

The distribution map of the red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in all its sub-species (around 45 of them) based upon IUCN data. Green represents known distribution, orange is contested distribution and the blue/purple is known but invasive distribution. And this is just the Red Fox! Amazing species. (Credit: Zoologist CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Why do I have to keep saying that it seems humans don’t like other successful species? And keep in mind we’re only talking the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) here. The Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus) covers the Northern territories the red doesn’t reach! The Fennec Fox (Vulpes zerda) covers the northern and Saharan parts of Africa the Red doesn’t reach! The Kit fox (Vules macrotis) has a  big presence in the South-West United States, covering that area that the red fox doesn’t! The Cape fox (Vulpes chama) takes care of South Africa! The vulpine is a successful creature! Wildly successful, a damn runaway success!

Representatives of the genus Vulpes, the true foxes. Top to bottom, left to right – Red Fox, Rüppell’s fox, Corsac fox, Indian fox, arctic fox, blandford fox, cape fox and fennec fox. All cute, wonderfully diverse and spread around the damn world. Foxes rule. (Credit: Mariomassone (from others) CC-BY-SA 3.0)

If you’ve never seen a red fox I feel bad for you. They are, for this non-canid lover, the perfect apologia for canids. They have a beautiful form, undoubtedly canid, a thick neck, strong, slender body, big bushy tail, an almost conical, pointed head forming a long, dog-like snout and large triangular ears. Their coat is usually an orange-red colour, countershading into a white underside, and a prominently white breast and chin. Their pelage, their coat, can be a number of colours though – From dark and red, through pale orange, into amber, even white, silver, grey, or black. Many of these colour morphs are quite rare.

They mostly eat small rodents and birds, in the UK rabbits are particularly popular. When I go out for a walk in the countryside and see a scattering across the field of a straw-coloured-into-silver fur I generally know a fox has eaten a rabbit! They also eat invertebrates like worms and slugs, as well as the reason for their conflict with humans, they will eat young sheep, chickens, ducks etc. However they are known to be quite opportunist and omnivorous, eating berries and fruits too and, since their urban population developed, eating our rubbish.

A variety of colour morphs of the red fox. Some of these are quite rare, all of them are gorgeous. (Credit: shakko via the
Darwin Museum, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

There is a myth that foxes kill for fun. I know, I once listened to a plum-voiced fellow pupil at my school, a proper Tory twat, he even stood for local election to the council of my town once, absolute prick. Anyway he told me of it. How foxes like to come into the chicken coop at night and just kill all the chickens for nothing other than pleasure. The sport of it.

They don’t, of course.

They are known to perform food storage. If they happen across a large amount of easily killable prey they will kill it and bury whatever they cannot eat for hard times, and they’re not wasteful either. They’ll eat maggot-meat. If anything they’re a lot more conscientious than humans who produce an estimated £10bn worth of food waste (around 7 tonnes) every year! EVERY YEAR! In the UK alone! Humans probably kill and waste more whole chickens than foxes do but the farmers aren’t concerned about fucking waste, are they? They’re concerned about bottom lines, cha-ching, the cash.

I know one species that kills for fun, Homo sapiens, humans. In fact they like to kill foxes, among other things, for a laugh.

Despite having been banned in 2005, the hunting of foxes by packs of hounds continues, often in the guise of ‘trail hunting’ – where the artificial scent of foxes is pursued by dogs. Sadly it is quite clear that in the process the traditional, cruel bloodspot still ‘accidentally’ happens. This disturbing image was used in the conviction of two members of the Heythrop Hunt and the organisation itself. The total penalty for breaking the law amounted to less than £10,000 in fines, plus legal costs. Disgrace. (Credit: David John Crawford CC-BY-SA 4.0)

In the past the fox has been one of our most important fur bearing animals and they used to be regularly killed for their pelts, they still are in some places. Most of their hunting by humans is done for ‘management’ though. Certainly here in the UK they are classified as vermin and are able to be shot on sight. Frankly the fox hunting ban of 2005 left sufficient loopholes so that poshos could still enjoy playing murder-dress-up of a weekend, making it effectively no ban at all. Foxes are still considered a pest species, as well as being able to shoot them on sight, you are allowed to us up to two dogs to ‘flush’ them out so long as the dogs don’t kill the fox. Your dogs are not permitted to go underground unless you can prove the fox has been bothering game birds – that is to say you are only allowed to kill an animal with your dogs if that animal has been threatening to kill other animals you specifically have on your property for the purpose of you, yourself, killing them.

I’m as harsh as it gets with the ‘circle of life’ thing. I can think of no greater tribute for my deceased corpse than to be eaten by predators. But these people are just fucking sick. These people revel in killing. They want to feel powerful. It’s fucking disgusting behaviour and those rules need fucking changing. It’s a fucking excuse of a ‘ban’ that still permits people to put on ‘fake hunts’ in which foxes just somehow magically end up getting killed brutally, and there is absolutely zero protection for the fox whatsoever. It is truly fucking appalling. “You can control foxes if they are causing damage to your property.” We fucking well deforested most of their habitat, put up walls and fences, arbitrary borders that must not be crossed and we’re allowed to shoot them if they damage ‘our’ property!? Man, the Earth should just gobble these entitled twatbags up and show them who owns ‘their’ property. You don’t own shit, you fucking borrow it! Drop the fucking ego-fueled, hubristic bullshit and welcome to the real fucking world, for Christ’s sake. You disgust me. Fuck people who hunt foxes.

KITT TAX! Yes, baby foxes are called ‘Kitts’ and they live in a den, underground, called an ‘Earth’. They are positively adorable, with their little button-snoots and those slightly angled eyes. Beautiful, beautiful animals. (Credit: Pcolaluca via Pixabay)

Plus humans are the only species capable of doing an impact assessment of their own behaviours. Of realising there may be negative future consequences to their actions. Do foxes take farm animals, costing farmers money? Undoubtedly. I am not debating that fact. But what wider ecosystem services (and I hate that it always has to come down to the nickels and dimes of how much money they save us, what their monetary value to us is, but that’s the most effective way to demonstrate the value of animals to people) do they provide? What is the value to farming of them keeping rabbit populations in check or taking out small, seed-stealing birds? What soil benefits do they bring given that they often burrow underground? Does the presence of foxes scare away mesopredators that would cause other problems?

According to an article by DiscoverWildlife.com the impact of foxes on poultry and livestock is around £10-12m per year, offset by an estimate £7-9m per year in benefits due to predation of rabbits. This is before including their value to wider, rural ecosystems in terms of forestry management. I’d argue it’s likely six of one and half-dozen of the other. They’re cause about £10m in damage and give about £10m in benefits.

What’s more, they’re a dispersing species. Do you know what happens when you kill all the foxes in one area? Foxes from other areas move in and kitt numbers seem to increase to fill the void! Killing foxes does not get rid of foxes, it creates foxes.

Look at this chubby-cheeked floofster! What a stunning fox. Sitting amoung the wrack on the shoreline near Inchgreen dry dock, near Greenock, Scotland. Those markings on its face! What a beauty! Also showing their amazing adaptability. Foxes are so generalist in their food preference they can thrive almost anywhere. (Credit: © Copyright Thomas Nugent CC-BY-SA 2.0)

There’s an argument that management of fox numbers is helping species like lapwings and curlew, ground-nesting birds. I can tell you that numbers of these birds have been plummeting dramatically (especially in the 1980s, they seem to be recovering now but are nowhere near their prior numbers) without foxes as a problem. The problem, as ever, as I always have to point out, is removal of, or exploitation of their natural habitats by humans, fragmentation of those habitats, and possibly most damning…Agricultural and farming practices.

A graph showing trends in stone curlew populations in Britain between 1990 and 2016. As you can see the fox hunting ban in 2005 seems to have had little impact on the overall trend in stone curlew numbers, meanwhile something happened around 2013 that caused a significant immediate plummet (Possibly related to the significant winter storms of 2013-14). (Credit: RSPB, used without permission)

Yes, farming is one of the leading causes of decline in Great British species and biodiversity, it has been for hundreds of years. Those same farmers want to portray the fox as the big villain in this whole piece, but it’s a handy distraction from the undeniable fact that their practices have had a significantly more deleterious effect on the UK’s natural world than any fucking fox!

The red fox is emblematic of so many things, but I propose it should be the emblem of human environmental denialism. As this persecuted symbol, blamed for so many ills in the natural world that are, in fact, mostly the responsibility of the very people blaming them, and calling to kill them. I think they represent perfectly the hypocrisy of those so-called ‘countryside’ allies. They proclaim to be more ‘in touch’ with nature than their ‘townie’ equivalents and yet they seem to have little fundamental understanding of biology, of environmental science, of ethology or ecology and are more immersed in an anachronistic culture of bloodlust and pompous foppery. Fuck ‘em all!

The red fox is the largest extant predator we have left in the UK, and they are a ridiculously successful species. They do not hunt for fun, as I have explained. Nor are urban foxes desperate and mangy cousins of the noble countryside version (that’s still held up as a villain). In fact recent studies have demonstrated dispersal of urban populations into the countryside. The urban fox is a not ‘different’ to the rural fox they’re literally the same damn animals! They wander into and out of towns and cities, presumably in response to food pressures, maybe wintering in suburbs when food is scarce in the wild but we’re busy throwing Christmas dinners and producing untold amounts of waste. They eat our waste! How many species am I going to have to throw that out as a boon with! We throw away millions of pounds worth of waste per year and foxes and pigeons are just two of the species covered so far who save us a substantial bill for cleaning it up!

The urban fox, likely a thing since Victorian times, during the inter-war years (1918-1939) they became a regular feature of several big cities. An attempt was made, unsuccessfully, to purge them from London in the 1950s. Foxes are shy, smart, cunning opportunists. They will win. Urban foxes eat a lot of our waste, do not habitually predate upon pets (though conflicts are known, but rare), are not more diseased or decrepit than their country counterparts, do not pose a significant danger to humans and are unlikely to spread disease or rabies any more than domestic pets. Basically, they cool! (Credit: David Anstiss / Urban Fox on Meadowcourt Road / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mate, the fox is not the enemy. They’re mostly harmless to people, in the UK there is perhaps an attack a handful of times a year. Per capita more people seek medical attention for dog bites than fox bites, dogs definitely kill more people in the UK than foxes. I don’t see a concerted effort to hunt Canis familiaris! They rarely, if ever, kill cats – Again, I don’t know how many times I have to explain but it is a fundamental behaviour to most predators NOT TO FIGHT WITH OTHER PREDATORS! If it has weapons to kill you it can do you significant damage. Predators do not like to fight each other, they usually avoid each other. Most of what you think you know about foxes is wrong.

So let’s return to the contradictions. On the one hand there is a public that seems truly besotted by these charismatic, beautiful native predators. The urban fox is not a pest and there seems to be significant overlap between their urban and rural populations. Credit to activists and presenters like Chris Packham and the ‘-watch’ series of programmes that do an excellent job communicating to the public the reality, in all its complex glory, of our native species that a certain proportion of the population seems determined to vilify.

Foxes have become regular visitors to our homes and gardens. Some people even feed them. As long as you maintain distance (to ensure they retain caution around people, as kitts especially can become very bold and playful) this is not a problem. They are omnivorous and opportunist but prefer things like cooked or raw meat or tinned dog or cat food. In fact leaving a tin of pet food out can encourage all sorts of wildlife into your garden, like hedgehogs and badgers. (Credit: platinumportfolio via Pixabay)

It is safe to say that despite a significant amount of misinformation out there, the fox itself is the greatest ambassador in this PR war. They struggle to not be cute, charismatic and beautiful, they struggle not to capture the hearts and minds of our UK population, but many of the negative stereotypes and myths still pervade, propped up by a lobbyist group that if it spent as much time and effort on developing new safety and security technologies as it did on anti-fox marketing and fox killing, would probably have found a good balance by now.

There’s dishonesty in the pro-fox-killing lobby. There is a tendency to avoid admitting the awful truth that they enjoy what they do. Fox hunting is not merely a necessity of rural, livestock farming life. If that were the case there would need be no organised hunts, people wouldn’t need to dress up, there would be no pomp and ceremony attached to it. There is. Fox hunting, the killing of foxes, is a legacy sport, it’s a leisure activity and it is fucking disgusting. If they were at least honest about what they were doing and why I might give their arguments more weight, instead they try to justify their ruthless blood sport with slanderous lies about a creature that, let’s be honest, they are jealous of because it is a more beloved, beautiful and effective predator than they could ever be.

How will this not win. Look at that face! (credit: Tambako The Jaguar CC-BY-ND 2.0)

This is one of the first species where I am hopeful, however. Foxes are good! They’re foxy foxxers who can fox with the best of ‘em. They are widely dispersed, globally successful, you can’t keep a vulpine down. When we eradicate them from an area they come back with a vengeance, demonstrating that good management is the only true path. Despite the money and hateful PR the anti-fox lobby is spewing it all gets undone by a few images of this beautiful, sunset-orange animal doing something awesome, cute or derpy.

I’d rather pay attention to a beautiful animal than a Barbour-coat wearing gammon with whisky-rosacea talking about how much he loves wearing tight jodhpurs.

Foxes will win.

Catch up with the rest of the Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals top ten!
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals : Introduction
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Bats
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Pigeons
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Wolves

Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Aye-Ayes
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Pika and Moles
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: Vultures
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: The European herring gull
Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: The Brown Rat

Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals: The Wasps

Published by Karl Anthony Mercer

Like a dark-chocolate fountain at a weight loss party, Karl Anthony Mercer is an under-utilised river of bittersweetness. When not busy researching or writing about any and all non-fiction topics for 'We Lack Discipline' Karl can often be found walking, staring at wildlife or writing poetry.

11 thoughts on “Top Ten Hated (But Misunderstood) Animals – 7- The Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: