There’s been a huge amount of debate over the threat posed to young children by urban foxes, after the shocking attack on Lola and Isabella Koupparis in Hackney, East London.
So are foxes a real threat to our children? What is clear is that it’s extremely rare for a fox to attack humans – adults or children.
Fox experts have been surprised to say the least, all expressing shock that this fox attacked two babies. Urban wildlife expert, John Bryant, commented that he’s never known a fox to attack a human in this way, in 40 years of work. He described it as a “freak event’ that would “never be repeated”.
There are estimated to be around 30,000 foxes in urban areas in the UK, including around 10,000 in Lonodn. Newspapers have reported claims that areas are being over-run by clans of foxes, which are terrorising neighbourhoods in apparently increasing numbers.
However, according to the RSPCA, the number of urban foxes has not increased. “There is no evidence that there are more foxes in towns and cities. It’s been the same level for 30 years. It’s just humans are getting more agitated about them.”
We’re also more likely to see them at this time of the year. This year’s cubs are now ‘teenagers’ and are boldly exploring their habitat, sniffing round people’s gardens and fearlessly investigating anything that smells like food.
It’s now thought the fox that attacked the twins was a cub. Expert John Bryant told Sky News that the cub may have been attracted by the smell of food from the babies’ dirty nappies. He explained that lots of people complain of foxes dragging dirty nappies out of bin bags.
“Foxes have a grab-and-go philosophy,” he explained. “In this case I suspect it was a combination of an open door in the house and the fox cub wandering upstairs attracted by the nappy smell.”
So if the foxes are in our gardens, scavenging through our food, do they pose a real danger to our children?
The figures say no. In fact, children (and adults) are much, much more likely to be attacked by dogs. In 2009, over 5,2000 people went to hospital after being harmed by dogs, and the figures have risen sharply over the past 10 years.
London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, has since joined in the debate, calling for councils to take urgent steps to cull the foxes. But culling a family of foxes who inhabit your garden will have only a temporary effect. If you remove one family of foxes, it’s not long before another fox will move in, claiming it as his territory.
“Foxes are self-regulating,” explained William Moore of fox-control company Foxolutions to The Guardian. He’s clear about the reasons why foxes have taken to city life. “Man is so dirty. We’ve encouraged foxes by chucking our food away.”
The best advice to keep foxes at a distance is to:
- keep rubbish inaccessible – put it in secure wheelie bins or a locked bin shed
- never feed foxes or encourage them into your house or outbuildings
- Avoid creating areas where a fox might live – make sure sheds are built on concrete bases (so foxes can’t live underneath) and keep old garden outhouses securely shut.