10,000 Foxes Roam London

James Owen in London
for National Geographic News
May 15, 2006

London, with its diverse communities, has a long history of welcoming refugees, but what if they come with bushy tails and a rather unpleasant smell?

The red fox has become a familiar sight in the city since arriving from the English countryside, where it has traditionally been shot as vermin or chased by hunters and packs of hounds.

Urban living clearly suits the animal, with upward of 10,000 foxes now roaming the United Kingdom's capital (U.K. map). That's more than enough foxes to cause a nuisance, according to some of their human neighbors.

(Related: Monster Rabbit Stalks U.K. Village (But No Sign of Wallace or Gromit) [April 11].)

Foxes first sought refuge here after World War II. Since then they have swapped wild rabbits and farm chickens for a diet of discarded takeout containers and other garbage food.

Experts estimate there are now 16 foxes for every square mile [2.6 square kilometers] of London.

These urban foxes are noticeably bolder than their country cousins, sharing sidewalks with pedestrians and raising cubs in people's backyards.

Foxes have even sneaked into the Houses of Parliament, where one was found asleep on a filing cabinet. Another broke into the grounds of Buckingham Palace, reportedly killing some of Queen Elizabeth II's prized pink flamingos.

Generally, however, foxes and city folk appear to get along. A survey in 2001 by the London-based Mammal Society found that 80 percent of Londoners liked having the animals around.

Some residents even deliberately attract foxes by putting out food for them to eat.

However other Londoners say foxes are pests that dig up lawns, scatter garbage, terrify pets, and leave behind a foul scent.

Stinky Neighbors

Continued on Next Page >>


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