Why control fox population?
In the UK I met many fox controllers who hate foxes and shoot them all year round. This attitude seems to be quite common and I can understand a frustrated farmer would like to see all foxes dead. On the other hand, I come from the country where foxes have closed season and are not (or at least were not a couple of years ago, but it is changing I regret to say…) treated more like a valuable hunting animal, not a vermin. I know foxes can do a lot of damage and have to be controlled, I am just not convinced about the means and certainly would not like to shoot a mature fox in Spring, knowing there are dependant cubs somewhere… However, after cubs are not dependant anymore and vixens are not lactating (I would say July – February) I am happy to help with any fox problem. I am sure more intense culling can make up some quiet time in Spring and avoid any unnecessary suffering.
We also cannot forget foxes play positive role are are part of the ecosystem. So why control foxes then? From my point of view this is kind of obvious, but will try to point out most of the relevant arguments.
Fox is a top predator in Britain these days and they don’t have natural predators. Maybe except humans… and traffic. They spread out quickly to new territories, and numbers are growing. It is now not uncommon to see foxes in cities, often in daylight. More foxes in certain areas will often mean more pressure on other wildlife and foxes will reduce numbers of birds, game, rodents, newborn deer, etc.
Foxes in rural environment will case damage. They can kill lambs, fowl and game. They are opportunists and once they find out a good supply of food, will be sticking to it. I remember when my parents had a few chickens, a local fox soon became a frequent visitor and even with good fencing this fox managed to take a few using every possible hole to get inside the fencing, and when one night no one remembered to close the chicken coop, most of the chickens were killed and only a few that managed to escape survived.
In my opinion it is much easier nowadays to see fox in towns that in countryside. I see a fox in my own back garden everyday and saw a family of three cubs there one day playing in the sun. Mature dog marks his territory (stairs…) everyday in the morning before I go to work and can often see him and most definitely smell… I do not take rubbish out in the evening anymore for bin men to collect in the morning as foxes will drag the rubbish all over the street…
All this is not too bad, but there is one snag… Foxes do carry various diseases and when they are in your back garden you or your children can easily pick something up.
Unfortunately, I would not risk my license to shoot any urban foxes, so just be aware and do not feed foxes, do not leave any food or toys overnight, and most important wash all fruit and vegetables that you grow.
Rabies is a viral infection that targets the brain and nervous system. It is fatal if not quickly treated. It has not been found in Britain for many years, but it does not mean it will not return.
When I was young rabies was quite common in foxes on continent and often transferred from foxes to dogs and cats and then to humans. My grandma was bitten by a rabies infected pine marten and had to be treated. Also my grandparent’s dog was bitten by infected fox and died soon after that, and the whole family and anyone who had contact with the dog had to be treated (a series of painful injections). As a boy I also shot a infected fox in the middle of our village. Since the program of vaccinating foxes started some years ago (dropping vaccine from planes to be picked up by foxes) rabies has been eradicated. Unfortunately, this meant also getting rid of one of the crucial mortality factors and fox numbers exploded since then.
Toxocariasis is an illness caused by a larvae that is carried by dogs, cats and foxes. Eggs can be picked up by humans from infected feaces or contaminated soil (see what I said about foxes in my back garden…).
Typical symptoms include abdominal pain, headache, cough, but larvae can travel through different organs of the body such as liver, lungs and heart, with most serious form of ocular migrants when parasites move into the eyes and could cause permanent vision loss.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that could be spread by foxes. Typical symptoms include headache, chills and muscle pain, in more severe cases organ failure and internal bleeding. This is caused by the bacteria infecting the liver and kidneys.
Echinococcosis is a parasitic disease that has got more media attention recently on continent, when many fox hunters been diagnosed. They picked up this from foxes and after 10-15 years end up with severe internal organ damage and from those infected up to 9 out of 10 unfortunately die. Echinococcosis is caused by a tapeworm larvae picked up by humans from dogs and foxes (again via feaces or contaminated soil, or fruit and vegetables… or your children’s toys in your garden… ) It has not been found out in the UK… yet.
Neosporosis is a infection that spread by foxes and dogs and is causing abortion in sheep and cattle. It can occur at any time during gestation. Sometimes infected calves may be born but often with brain damage. As far as I know there is no treatment, so most sensible seems to be prevention and getting rid of the foxes from pastures.
Mange infected foxes is quite a common sight. Sarcoptic mange is a highly contagious infestation of burrowing mite. These mite dig into and through the skin causing irritation and hair loss and skin damage, this leads to other infections and death. Your dog can pick it up from foxes.
Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs)
I am sure all of us seen, run over or had a near miss with a fox. This could cause some damage to your car as well as a hazard on road when people avoid hitting a fox.
Kind of obvious as well, less foxes in rural environment results in less damage farmers suffer from lost lamb and fowl, risk of rabies and neosporosis in sheep and cattle is reduced. Also ground nesting birds, game and deer suffer less from fox predation. In all cases risk of all diseases fox may carry is reduced.
Fox population is also in better health when numbers are controlled and mange and other illnesses are not transferred easily from animal to animal. Each year cubs are born and they all have to find their own territories and doing so they are causing RTAs.
How to control foxes?
Snaring is legal in the UK, but after seeing and finding deer and wild boar poached that way I do not see why this kind of method causing so much suffering could be illegal for controlling some animals and legal for controlling poor foxes…
I do not have any experience with trapping, but using live cage trapping is legal, I cant imagine this method to be very productive though.
Shooting with shotguns and rifles is a typical method of fox control and is causing instantaneous death.
I can do it for you.
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