WATCH: The Fox Project demonstrates compassion for the injured and orphaned
In this video above, IFAW UK Director Robbie Marsland takes us through a ‘day in the life’ of carers working to return injured foxes back to the wild.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare funds a number of projects in the UK and I visited one I’m very proud of the other day. It is The Fox Project just outside the busy town of Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent.
Soon after 9 a.m. we knocked at the door of the small purpose-built facility that they share with a local animal hospital. We were greeted by animal nurse Lucy and Libby (who was on work experience at the unit for three weeks). We were there to share about half of their 12-hour shift that day.
And what a time we were to have…
The aim of The Fox Project is to assess, treat and rehabilitate poorly foxes and then return them back to the wild. This all usually takes place within 2-4 weeks. You can’t say fairer than that. And from what we saw that day, they do it with high levels of professionalism, dedication, commitment and all with good humour.
The first job of the day was to clean out and assess the health of the four foxes that were in the intensive care unit. These were foxes that had recently come in and needed close attention before being moved to quieter quarters.
The first thing we noticed was that they had a novel way of naming the foxes in their care, often with a link to where the foxes had been rescued from. Buddy, had mange. Brian Cox seemed to have suspected brain damage. Zebedee had been involved in a road traffic accident and Duncan was found collapsed in a landed fishing net.
As Lucy and Libby worked calmly and patiently with the foxes, Lucy explained that one of the key aspects of their work was to keep the amount of human/animal contact to a minimum.
If foxes are to be successfully returned to the wild at the end of the process, then they mustn’t become accustomed to human handling. In short to survive in the wild, they have to stay wild. That’s why the foxes would be moved onto their next temporary recuperation home as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, as they were being carefully assessed I was struck by how unaggressive the foxes were. I’ve been in similar dog units and seen that it’s really not uncommon for a dog to react to the situation by barking and showing its teeth in an effort to defend itself.
These foxes always seemed to do the reverse.
Their instinct was to cower away and look for somewhere to escape.
A professionally and delicately placed towel over their heads quickly subdued them and enabled a health check.
Having assured themselves that the four recent arrivals were in as good a shape as they could be Lucy and Libby were off on their rounds - with us in tow.
The Fox Project is blessed with tens of volunteer fosterers who agree to have a large fox pen built in their garden or near their house and foster foxes for a week or two until they move onto another fosterer or are released. The move from fosterer to fosterer is all about making sure the foxes don’t get acclimatised to either any one location or person. The job of the fosterer is keep an eye on how the foxes are improving and to ensure the foxes are fed.
Other than that, they stay back and let the foxes get better.
The first fosterer we visited was a 45-minute drive from the Project. Sue had a lovely rambling garden with an area of wilderness where the fox pen was situated.
Sue clearly loved being a fosterer.
She said she missed them when they left, but always knew she would have new wards to look out for. She was a bit concerned that one of the foxes in her care that had lost an eye was still in a bit of trouble, but after Lucy gingerly inspected each of the foxes she pronounced that she was very pleased with each of them.
Sue looked delighted.
Another 30 minute drive took us to another carer who was very experienced and who would be overseeing the return of the four foxes there back into the wild.
Lucy explained to us that wounded foxes that recover are always released in exactly the spot where they were found – i.e. in their own territory. The foxes we were looking at now were all found as pups and so had no territory. That’s why it would be ok to release them into the local countryside once they are recovered.
The vast majority of people, in the country and in towns, like foxes. But there are some who think they are terrible and should be shot or illegally hunted.
I can imagine that those people don’t like the idea of looking after foxes and returning them to the wild.
As IFAW was a leading member of the campaign to ban hunting and still monitors hunts to make sure they are not breaking the law, you can imagine why we are so keen to fund the brilliant work that The Fox Project does.
Our final stop was with another fosterer and the five foxes in her care. Once again, I was struck that no matter how wild the foxes had remained, they still showed no aggression and constantly cowered away and looked for a method of escape before succumbing to the quiet of the towel.
As we drove away I reflected that most of my near contact with foxes had been either seeing them silently slipping by on London roads or in the country being pursued by packs of hounds baying for their blood, as a part my work to ban hunting and prosecute illegal hunters.
To see them at such close quarters reminded me that they are like all animals – perfectly designed for their place in nature.
Sometimes, people think that humans need to “manage” their populations or “control” their behaviour by killing them.
For my part I’m content that our only intervention is to occasionally and professionally help them when they are injured or orphaned by those who care so little for them.
That’s why IFAW is proud to help fund The Fox Project.