Basil brush bites back


There has been a large furor lately about a fox attack that happened on two babies who were lying in their cot – in their house, on the third floor. Both babies were seriously injured, and while they are both home now, one of them may need plastic surgery throughout her life, due to the facial injuries. 

Apparently 6 foxes have now been trapped in their backyard and put to death.

Nothing can lessen the horror of this event – particularly the fact that the fox had to travel up 2 flights of stairs to get at the girls. That they were not safe in their own bedroom.

What bites on me – however – is the reaction of people commenting on various news and blog reports of this event. Blame ranged from being laid on the parents for being stupid for leaving the back door of their house open, to suggesting that all urban foxes should be culled.

Many people also accused the couple of lying, and covering up for their family dog.

Why are people far quicker to lay abuse on a couple who are in shock at the terrible events and injuries on their babies, than offer support and love? Whatever the facts actually are, they will probably become clear later – and speculation by backyard pundits without the full facts is not only pointless, it’s also hurtful.

I don’t know the real facts. And I don’t consider that sensationalistic journalism gives me a non biased overview of any event. But what I do know is that context is very important.

A fox is a wild animal. Whether it’s living in the urban or rural environment, it’s the same animal. Only a fool would think that a fox can be tamed by a few hand outs. Teaching a fox to take food from your hand is going to lead to the same animal trying to get food from other humans. It’s going to give the animal a false sense of trust in human environments. And when cornered, that fox is going to react just like a normal wild animal.

Several commenters posted links to video “proof” that foxes come into homes. And some of those links lead to short films showing foxes being enticed into a home using meat. Others showed food being stored at floor level on open shelves, which the fox had been drawn to.

The latest update on the twins mauling was that it may have been a 4 month old cub. Fox expert John Bryant – who was initially skeptical about the liklihood of a fox being responsible –  said “I think this will be remembered as an unprecedented and freak event. But it may serve as a warning that making pets of foxes, feeding them, getting them too used to people and going into houses is not a good idea.” Source: The Sun

My neighbour used to feed the foxes. Throwing food leftovers and bones out into her backyard brought not only the foxes, but also more rats – which in turn brought more foxes. The council intervened after other neighbours complained, and she no longer does this. We still have a large population of foxes roaming up and down our back alley ways. They visit all of our backyards – jumping over fences between the houses, and spending a lot of time sitting on the various shed rooves, including ours.

You’ve probably noticed a few photos of my fox on this blog.

I like my fox. 

Ferdi has now become Ferdi, Ferdi Junior and Foxy. They are independent foxes, although sometimes I see them playing together. In the middle of the night I hear them playing together, which involves screaming and noisy scrambling over fences.

I wish I could get some better (closer) photos of them, but they are very wary of me, and disappear in an instant if I come out the back door. And that’s a good thing. I don’t want my foxes to become complacent in the presence of humans. I don’t want them to start approaching me or my children. I will never feed them, or try and entice them closer.

A pair of manly sandals belonging to Mr Boxer Shorts were recently ruined after being left outside overnight. That’s annoying, but it’s something we have to remember, and normally I tidy up the backyard in the evening and put things away for that exact reason. We’ve lost 3 pairs of children’s trainers in the past in different houses to foxes.

Since the first report of this attack, I’ve done quite a bit of reading about foxes, and found some very useful websites. I’ve also found some even stupider people making baseless comments at times when they really should have kept quiet.

I’ve also found some questionable statements from journalists. Take Rory Knight Bruce, who states “From my own experience of life on a Devon farm, I know that it is impossible for the fox to live in easy harmony with man. My left hand still bears the scars of a bite from a vixen which I tried to rescue from an earth which had caved in.” Source: Daily Mail

He’s actually suggesting that the terrified and trapped vixen should have understood that he was trying to help it? His example of the “Vicious” fox isn’t relevant to the arguement that he’s presenting.

Worse though, was the projection of human emotions onto the animal. 

Janice Turner writes “Is there a creature more sinister than the urban fox? It seems to embody one’s darkest fear about dwelling in a city: that living among us, silent, watching and waiting for a lapse in our attention is a malignant, amoral force. If a fox took human form he’d be the burglar who broke in while you were on holiday and took a dump in your hallway” Source: The Times

A fox can be clever and cunning, but it can’t be sly. It doesn’t kill all your chickens out of spite or malice. It’s not trying to make it personal. It will kill them all so that it can cache them – something it probably won’t get the chance to do since you’ll discover the carnage before it does. Is it irresponsible to suggest that the fox is so clever that it can plot, plan and carry out mass murder just to upset us when really it’s just acting on instinct?


My cat is locked in and sleeps at night, generally retiring at midnight during summer. I set up this habit from kittenhood to protect nocternal animals from him, and him from traffic. I realise now it’s also a protection for him from foxes. But I am not sure what risk that actually poses.

In the dusk and twilight hours I see him interacting with the foxes. At first I was nervous about that relationship, and worried that he might be hurt. It transpires that he’s the dominant one, despite being almost half the size of the largest fox (Ferdi).

I’ve watched him sit with feigned indifference as the fox darts around him, and on several times I’ve watched him turn and chase the fox away.

Recently I watched Toby and the fox playing in my neighbour’s yard. Toby sat on a bench, while the fox cavorted around it. The fox was lowering its front haunches and waving its tail in the air. It kept rolling about, rubbing its face on the grass in front of my cat. It wou
ld leap up and dart away if the cat make a motion towards it, then leap back in, with the bowing motion and head rubbing.

I’m not an expert on animal behaviour, but the fox looked to be subservient to my cat. 

I will continue to watch and enjoy my foxes from a distance. I will continue to ensure that toys and shoes are not left out, and that all rubbish is binned securely. I will certainly be more likely to close my back door early, rather than risk a curious fox approaching it while we’re in another room.

The attack on the twins was a random and freak occurence, and I hope no other parents have to go through that. But for goodness sake, don’t feed foxes, don’t try and make friends with them. They are wild animals, and should be treated as such. Allowing them into our homes only leads to incidents like this happening. And don’t blame them for being what they are.


More information on foxes:

The National Fox Welfare Society

The Fox Website

How common are fox attacks on humans? (BBC)

Photo credits:
fox cub photographed by Christopher Hall.

fox through the fence photographed by me.

1 Comment

  • Amy Phillips says:

    Wow, this is a really great story about the whole incident. We heard little, if anything, of the mauling here in the U.S. and hadn’t heard of all ensuing furor. You should pitch this story to some bigger sites, it’s THAT good.
    And what great pictures.