fraser, frogs and fluffy foxes
this week i met my friend’s new born son, fraser. he’s 3 weeks old and looks tiny, especially on his granddad’s arm. though i’m told that he’s very big for his age. so big that the midwife opted for a caesarian and the parents for the name ‘fraser’ instead of their long-term favourite ‘ruaridh’. to me he looked tiny and i really sympathised with him when he curled up on his mum’s tummy looking like a little frog the way he managed to angle his tiny arms and legs so that they were almost entirely covered by his supple torso. he looked like he wasn’t quite ready yet for the outside world!
unlike the other baby i’ve seen a bit of over the past couple of days: a fox cub that’s come out in the sun to explore our garden. it’s probably about the same age as fraser but even tinier and still covered from head to tail in fluffy black neonatal fur like a ball of wool. it allowed me to come close enough to take these photos while it clearly tried to find it’s way around and underneath a pile of old logs.
i remember hearing the eerie high-pitched screams of the foxes during their mating season in january and was surprised to learn that it then only takes between 49-58 days until the litter – usually between four or five cubs – are born.
when i find myself in conversations about urban foxes it always seems to me that fox numbers in london are constantly rising – but actually that’s not quite true: fox populations are relatively stable and regulate themselves through the habitat and food that’s available – or more likely the lack of it.
foxes actually only breed once each year and actually up to 80 per cent of the cubs die or – more likely – get killed before they reach sexual maturity and so they themselves never breed. for the little ones the enemy number one are our cats and dogs; for the adult ones it’s unsurprisingly cars which are responsible for up to half the fox deaths in the uk…
i quite enjoyed reading on the royal borough of kensington and chelsea’s website a reminder that ‘foxes are classed as wild animals, not pests’. it strikes me as odd that we complain about foxes being invasive predators when ultimately one of the reasons why they do show up in our parks and gardens is that human animals keep growing our cities and strangulating surrounding countryside – the habitats of a wide range of animals for centuries – at a pace of about 320 square mile a year* – that is about 68 heathrow airports.
* The Telegraph from 10.09.2007 makes reference to the CPRE/Campaign To Protect Rural England figures according to which ‘each year since the early 1990s, another 320 square miles has become overshadowed by urban development’.
*Heathrow Airport is 1227 hectare in size which converts to 4.7 square miles and is about 1/68th of our 320 square miles…