Thursday 5 December 2019

Country Matters: Fox's kitchen call for act of human kindness

SO CUTE: Human acts of kindness to foxes are often reciprocated
SO CUTE: Human acts of kindness to foxes are often reciprocated

Joe Kennedy

An Englishman who is a vet and a qualified barrister has written a book about trying to live like an animal.

During an interview, he offered a journalist a nibble at some earthworms. There would be a "strange squirmy sensation" when the worm split in two, the interviewer was warned.

Later, they shared some barbequed wrigglers, served with nettles and garlic. The reporter noted: "They tasted better when cooked; less slippery."

The book's author, Charles Foster, recounts spells of trying to live like a fox, a badger, an otter, even a swift.

He spent days and nights lying out in woodlands, in gardens, nosing into setts and dens.

A fox once beat him to a chicken leg supper.

He felt he had got closer to foxes than any other creature, scavenging through rubbish bins, mooching around urban gardens, sharing what he describes as their "emotional intelligence".

He was trying to get into the head of an urban fox, he said. He came off second best.

The fox lived better, could run faster and needed less sleep. Its teeth were sharper, its nose and ears better, he admitted.

"It was just superior," he said.

Many stories of foxes and their empathy with man have been recounted in nature writing. Most reveal simple gestures and acts of kindness by humans towards the animals and how these were regularly reciprocated.

The late Dame Miriam Rothschild, eminent zoologist and a Fellow of the Royal Society, told of how she had cared for an injured vixen in her lab for a time before it could be released back into the wild and how later it returned to her garden with new cubs to show them off to its benefactor.

Said Dame Miriam: "It was a breath-taking experience. I felt crowned."

The 19th-century naturalist WH Hudson told the story of a woman who released a pet fox she had named Peter into the wild, then missed its companionship and went into the woods every day calling its name.

Eventually, Peter appeared and was overjoyed to see his mistress, leaping in the air and dancing around her "in transports of joy".

Last week, I saw some mobile phone pictures taken by a reader, EK of Co Meath, showing the plight of an emaciated vixen suffering from a sarcoptic manage that would eventually kill the animal.

Foxes also get infected with a parasitic disease called toxacara that debilitates them.

But the phone pictures of the vixen showed a gradual return to health, from walking-dead images to recovery. It was remarkable.

This all came about through a veterinary drug being administered in tiny drops on food left out for the fox. (I have no clinical details). But the wonderful finale came one evening when the recovered animal nosed its way into the reader's kitchen and stood there looking at him.

He told me: "The vixen just stood there, looking straight at me for a short time, then turned and slipped out the door. She appeared to have fully recovered."

He has not seen her since.

The animal book author Charles Foster said when he was face to face with a fox, being looked at was the reciprocity he had longed for in his quest.

Sunday Independent

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