Urban Foxes in South London
On my last night in London, I saw foxes.
The first fox appeared on a city street as we were eating a delicious dinner at Thai Corner Cafe in East Dulwich in south London.
The fox appeared across the street, where he sniffed the wall enclosing an old church before lifting his leg just like a dog.
Then he startled and zipped down the street, ducking into an overgrown area in front of the building.
England has a large population of urban foxes. Red foxes are such a common sight in parts of London, including East Dulwich, that our London friends were quite amused, if not bemused, by me bolting out of the restaurant and down the street for a better look. They later told me that foxes appear regularly on their street in the middle of the night, lured by the availability of trash as well as food (misguidedly, in my opinion) put out for them by a neighbor. Look out your window at three in the morning, our friends said, and you may well see a fox or two. They also described an absolutely horrific sound – if memory serves, Jon said it was like a baby being strangled – made by foxes in the night.
After finishing our meal at the Corner Cafe, our friends took us to Nunhead Reservoir in the quickly waning light to bid farewell to the city that rose far below us.
The reservoir itself is underground, covered by a high heath-like mound, an open space from which we looked out at the city. When I turned around to look behind me, I saw a four-legged shape silhouetted in the gathering dark. “Jon,” I interrupted. “Is that a fox?”
It was a fox. In fact, two foxes. The one I photographed in the dim light was very active, hunting and running freely about the open space. When we approached a little closer, both foxes disappeared in the direction of the overgrown Victorian cemetery that borders one side of the reservoir.
Cemeteries provide perfect habitat for many urban animals, offering places to hide and den as well as open areas for hunting small rodents. In NYC, a coyote has been frequently spotted at a large cemetery in Queens. (They also breed in the Bronx, and have been seen in Manhattan and Staten Island.) In fact, urban foxes in the UK seem to occupy a similar niche as coyotes now do in many North American cities. Both canids seem to be remarkably well adapted to city life. And lucky Britain does not have to worry about rabies, having effectively eradicated the disease years ago through stringent regulations requiring vaccinations of pets and quarantines on animals brought into the country. The last spate of rabies cases occurred after World War I, when service members brought infected dogs home from European countries. Here in the eastern US, rabies is a significant concern among wild foxes, as friends on the eastern shore of Maryland learned a few years ago when they were pursued, as in a horror movie, by a rabid fox.
Farewell, London foxes and farewell, London.
Explore posts in the same categories: 2013, In the City, Wildlife/Natural History comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.