Why not all urban foxes deserve their ‘bin-raiding’ reputation

Team Udayavani, Sep 5, 2023, 10:34 AM IST

Ever since their colonisation of British cities sometime during the last century, urban red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) have become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon. Some people love them for their striking marmalade coats but others, including former prime minister Boris Johnson, think of them as a menace.

In recent times, people seem to think urban foxes are becoming bolder and more cunning, “wreaking havoc in central London” by scavenging in bins for food scraps. But our recent study suggests that this popular portrayal may only be partially true for the species.

Cities are dynamic places. The people, traffic, smells, noises and opportunities for food are constantly changing. This, in theory, should be ideal for bolder animals who would have the confidence to exploit resources like outdoor bins, for instance, despite the risk of coming into conflict with humans. Cunning animals would also be good at learning to push, pull or lift human-made materials such as bin lids and food containers to extract discarded food.

In our recent study, we tested whether urban foxes have indeed become bolder and more cunning by comparing them to their countryside cousins. We gave a series of puzzle feeders to foxes in 104 urban and rural locations across a large area, from London to Edinburgh, and left them in place for two weeks. The food inside each puzzle could be released through simple actions such as removing lids or pulling sticks to dislodge food from pipes.

Playing for your food Across all of our study locations, 96 foxes acknowledged the objects, most of which showed an initial avoidance of the puzzles. Around a third (31) touched the puzzles, but only 12 of those foxes persisted long enough to extract the food. We found urban foxes were more likely to interact with the puzzles than rural ones, suggesting they were bolder.

However, when it came to their willingness to solve the puzzles, there was no difference between the two populations. The lack of persistence we recorded during our research, even for puzzles containing large rewards (90 dog biscuits), contradicts the notion that urban foxes regularly exploit another type of puzzle that humans leave out – household waste bins.

To confirm that foxes were interested in the food but lacked the motivation to exploit the puzzle contents, we returned to some of our study locations six months later and left the same food on the ground without a puzzle. All of these foxes ate the food without hesitation.

So, while some foxes do indeed raid bins, our findings suggest that perhaps this doesn’t happen as often as people might think due to foxes’ aversion to risk and effort. Instead, this belief about city foxes may come from accounts from specific populations or highly publicised cases, but not from urban foxes in general.

Our experimental study is consistent with findings from other research on fox diet, direct observations of urban foxes, and household surveys, all of which indicate that the notion of foxes as prolific bin raiders is not typical of the species. Other factors beyond boldness may lead some foxes to rummage through bins, such as when containers have no lids or when they lack barriers to block access, which we are investigating in follow-up studies.

What does this mean for foxes and people? Foxes are ecologically important to urban green spaces, so people need to find ways of living amicably alongside them. Indeed, by simply disposing of our waste properly, for example, we can discourage many of them from hanging around our bins.

Foxes are one of the most widespread carnivores on the planet and urban sprawl grew by 45% from 1990-2014, and keeps increasing. So it’s getting harder for foxes and humans to avoid each other.

At the moment, surveys show foxes are currently one of the most beloved mammals in the UK, but this could change as they become bolder due to greater opportunities for conflict with people. Our study and others, however, show the importance of having objective data to guide public perceptions about a species as their portrayal within popular culture may not always be rooted in reality.

(The Conversation)

Udayavani is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel and stay updated with the latest news.

Top News

Auto-driver arrested in Ujjain Rape case injured while attempting to flee

Cauvery dispute: K’taka Home Minister warns against forcing bandh 

Cauvery issue: Karnataka bandh; No school or college holidays declared in coastal districts

Cauvery issue: BJP MP appeals to Karnataka and TN CMs to find an amicable solution to the water woes

Vittal: POCSO case filed against man for harassing minor

Cauvery water dispute: Moral support for K’taka bandh in coastal districts; Pvt buses to maintain service

When hashtag ‘Trevor Noah cancelled his show’ became synonymous with #peakbengaluru traffic woes

Related Articles More

Old Parliament building, now called Samvidhan Sadan, witness to India story since 1927

Ganesh Chaturthi: A festival that warms the heart!

Mahsa Amini: a year into the protest movement in Iran, this is what’s changed

World Ozone Day: A look at the ozone layer’s road to recovery

Analysis: Novak Djokovic isn’t surprised he keeps winning Grand Slam titles. We shouldn’t be, either


Unbelievable Rescue: From Stray Kitten to Black Panther Companion

Diving into the mesmerizing world of the Aquatics Gallery

Ashtamida Aisira that reflects the culture of Tulunad

Boy and His Dog Survive 8Days Lost in the Forest

The person who set fire to the neighbor’s rickshaw

Latest Additions

Kejriwal bungalow controversy: CBI probe will bring out truth behind CM’s ‘rajmahal’, says BJP

Uttarakhand: BJP leaders made chiefs of govt committees, councils

SC orders registrar to lodge police complaint over fabrication of its order

Auto-driver arrested in Ujjain Rape case injured while attempting to flee

Cauvery dispute: K’taka Home Minister warns against forcing bandh 

Thanks for visiting Udayavani

You seem to have an Ad Blocker on.
To continue reading, please turn it off or whitelist Udayavani.