Two headlines caught my attention this week, both about animals attacking children. One article went into the details of the attack, how an infant was attacked in his home, had a finger bitten off which was then re-attached by surgeons and there are still doubts over whether he will regain use of his hand. The other was a much shorter article about a toddler being attacked in the street and suffered severe facial injuries.
The former made national headlines with follow up articles and politicians demanding action to prevent a similar incident happening again while the latter is confined to history, no one is interested in reporting on how she is recovering. What is the difference? The former attack was by a wild fox (vulpine vulpine) and the latter by a domestic dog.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, has called on action to curb the number of foxes living in the city: a cull by any other name. But why not the same outcry and demands for culling pet dogs? The answer may well be related to the fact that the estimated 8 million pet dogs make their home in almost one in four UK households. That is a lot of people to speak up for them, stopping politicians taking knee-jerk action. The foxes only have a few of us tree huggers and Brian May (@DrBrianMay: On Bri's Soapbox) to speak up for them.
According to NHS data, 6,450 people were treated in hospital in the year to the end of April 2012 for dog bites or strikes. In contrast, prior to this most recent case, five people have been hurt in four fox attacks since 2002. There are about thirty times more dogs than foxes but this does not account for the far higher attack rate, especially when dog owners have a responsibility for their behaviour. Further, unlike dogs, there have been no reports of foxes killing people. Dogs are therefore a much more dangerous than foxes. I am absolutely not suggesting a cull of pet dogs but this would do more to protect people than a fox cull.
Before concluding whether foxes are the villains or are unfairly vilified, it is worth considering why more than 1 in 8 foxes live on our towns and cities. On the one hand, pressures on their habitat has driven then out of the countryside and on the other hand, our urban spaces provide an attractive habitat. Urban sprawl has paved over the countryside over the past fifty or sixty years and changes in agricultural practices led to less attractive habitats over a similar period.
The same urban sprawl provides an attractive new habitat in many respects: there is plenty of cover in gardens - under bushes and hedges, behind sheds and so on - and thanks to our wasteful and untidy habits, plenty of opportunities to scavenge food. The only down side is the presence of noisy people.
In summary, we took over their homes, invited them back in and on the rare occasion when there is conflict they are depicted as the villain. The evidence shows that they are much less of a danger to infants than domestic pets, no danger at all to older children and adults. They try to avoid contact with humans and would run away unless cornered or protecting their young.
Vulpine Vulpine is not the villain but unfairly and wrongly vilified to sell a few papers and score political points.
Related Post: The Hunt, On illegal fox hunting