A new urban terrorist

Observations on foxes

For many decades, fox-hunters have been quietly saying among themselves that townies would only understand foxes once fox-hunting was abolished. They predicted that encroachment on hunting would drive foxes into the towns, and that it would only be a matter of time before the creatures began to target human babies.

A few weeks ago, a fox in suburban Kent attacked a baby inside its house, while the child was lying by its dozing mother on the sitting-room sofa. When the child's father tried to scare it off, the fox - according to the father - gazed coolly at him before trotting away.

The RSPCA was quick to warn the father that if he tried to harm or kill the fox he could be prosecuted. Instead, he was persecuted by the fox, who returned frequently to the family's garden, presumably hoping for another crack at the succulent infant.

Eventually, the creature was shot a few days ago by a London and Southern Counties Pest Control Service officer.

It is a strange little tale but, I believe, an important one. Surely, this is the moment when reason should bellow caution in the ears of those who would ban hunting.

Whatever your feelings about the hunting issue, there are certain unavoidable facts. The first is that, as the League Against Cruel Sports concedes, foxes must be controlled, partly to protect vulnerable livestock (lambs, chickens) and partly because, with no natural predators (other than humans), elderly or infirm foxes will die of horrible diseases or starvation.

Second, as the Burns inquiry established, there simply is no economically effective way of culling these creatures that is less cruel than fox-hunting.

The third point is that, without hunting, many farmers will set about eradicating the fox population from the countryside. Farmers will have some success in killing them, mostly through trapping, poisoning, gassing or shotgun-wounding. But large numbers will continue to migrate to towns and cities.

My rubbish bags, in inner west London, are regularly scavenged and, despite having hunted for several years, I have seen far more foxes in towns than I have ever seen in the countryside. There have been thousands of reports of daytime sightings.

Foxes are brilliant at finding the weakest prey. In urban or suburban areas, this will include human babies. Fox-hunters are undoubtedly cruel. Are they justified, though? The abolitionists believe not.

But even the most fervent anti-blood-sports activists should now wonder if a few mauled babies every year are acceptable casualties of the war against followers of the hunt.