Fox 'Dubs' leave den for the first time -- 2km from O'Connell Street
IT looks like a classic countryside scene -- a vixen bringing her cubs above ground for the first time since their birth.
However, this is no rustic idyll as the scene is a mere 2km from Dublin's O'Connell Street.
This urban fox has been studied by wildlife photographer Paul Hughes for the past three years, but he won't reveal their exact location to protect the animals.
The curious fox cubs explored a small green area while their cautious mother looked on, allowing just enough time for the photographer to capture the adorable family up close.
The she-fox forages for her cubs in local rubbish bins and has raised her offspring on a diet of hot dogs, small rodents, half-eaten ham sandwiches and hamburgers.
Mr Hughes said: "This is the third year she has produced a litter, which is fantastic, and she has given birth to 16 cubs in total over the past three years.
"I know her by the scar across her nose. She is a great mother and is constantly finding food for her cubs. The first time I came across her was when she snatched two newly hatched cygnets from their mother."
PJ Doyle, from the Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said urban foxes were on the decline since the introduction of wheelie bins, which dramatically cut off their food supply. However, he said foxes were still regularly seen near city centres and were often spotted roaming Dublin's Grafton Street and near Dail Eireann at night.
They have also been spotted near supermarkets and in small villages where there is a ready food supply.
Dave Wall, a zoologist with University College Dublin, said foxes were hugely adaptable.
In some densely populated areas of Dublin there are up to four or five fox families per square mile, he claimed.
"Food is readily available for foxes across Irish cities and people feed them.
"We often receive calls from four or five different people who are feeding the same fox in a suburban area. When they can't access food from the bins, foxes adapt and exist on insects and grass.
"There are a number of fox families breeding in St Stephen's Green and Merrion Square. They live off pet food left outside and left-over fast food. They basically will take anything that is going," said Mr Wall.