Out-foxing the Foxes

By Nathaniel R. Dickinson
May 4, 2006

A very thought-provoking article, with the headline “Thousands of Foxes Are Living in London And Making a Mess,” appeared in the April 26th edition of The Wall Street Journal. It begins by saying that landowners are being out-foxed by foxes. The red fox which had long been associated with Britain’s countryside is now a common sight in the city and has become an unwelcome neighbor — trashing gardens, leaving foul scent, tearing up lawns, stealing shoes, feeding on pet rabbits and guinea pigs, and causing all manners of problems and damage.

It certainly sounds like the Londoners are being out-foxed and those in charge had better figure out why the behavior of many species of wildlife is changing in respect to their adaptation to a life in close proximity to humans. This is only one of the many recent horror stories coming forth from many parts of the world.

Clues are provided with reference to the 2004 Hunting Act that bans the hunting of foxes, or any wild animal with packs of dogs. Parliament deemed the pack-dog chase cruel to animals, while the hunters marched in protest arguing that the sport helps keep populations in check.

Unfortunately, there has evolved a rather universal human tolerance for the wild kingdom, fueled by the radical environmental movement. Of course all manners of tolerance are politically correct. There is a crying need to more effectively counter the radicals, while opportunities still exist.

First and foremost, as the name implies, it must be recognized and accepted that wildlife is wild and should be managed as such. Any efforts to in any way tame them or make them roadside creatures should be discouraged, and in many cases legislated against. Loss of natural wildness and fear of man creates a multitude of problems.

Incidentally, the red fox may be a new entry to the list of problem species and the threats might be minor in comparison to others, such as the white-tailed deer. Uncontrolled deer populations in the United States cause millions of dollars damage to agricultural crops, forest regeneration, landscape plants, and home gardens. Add to this the acceleration in deer-motor vehicle collisions, some resulting in human fatalities. The prudent wildlife manager knows full well and experiences have shown that, as long as deer populations are at levels near carrying capacity by way of well-designed firearm hunting seasons, problems will be at a minimum.

Then there are the semi-wild populations of Canada geese that have developed highly undesirable behavioral changes under the influence of man’s culture. Throw into the mix the role these birds might sometime play in the spread of avian flu.

Experience has shown that the most effective way to maintain the desired wildness of game animals is to subject them to well-designed firearm hunting seasons. For example, compare the degree of wildness of black bears in the Catskills of New York, where bear hunting is a long-standing tradition, to those inhabiting northwestern New Jersey, where bruins wander at will between homes.

Then there are the problems that develop as a result of artificial feeding. People feel good doing it, but are not aware of the consequences. Detrimental aspects can be similar to those of ill-founded human welfare programs where the recipients become totally dependent on the provider. Wildlife agencies should stress the importance of maintaining wildness and in some cases pursue legislation to outlaw artificial feeding.

Mention should be made of the threats posed by mountain lions and wolves in many of the western states. Attacks on humans, with a number of fatalities, have been reported.

Further adding fuel to the fire that hampers the implementation of sound wildlife management programs are those who believe that wild animals have rights and campaign to insure that they are addressed. The fact of the matter is that, if they exist, they had to be granted by mankind. A prerequisite for such would be an assumption of responsibilities. Irresponsible actions should lead to a loss of any rights. The wild world may be seen to be a model of harmony and tranquility with the chirping of birds and the cuddlesome appearance of many of the newborns. On closer examination, it is apparent that the jungles are inhabited by very irresponsible beings. Other than certain degrees of maternal instinct, there is little concern for the well being of others. Little respect for personal belongings of fellow residents is to be found, murder is a fact of life, thievery rampant, assault and battery is common place. In short, Mother Nature can be extremely cruel. And, in light of the way wildlife treats humans, man is very nice to wild animals.

A case can easily be made that wild animals presently have too many rights. For the most part they are allowed to roam at will and forage, show little respect for private property, are not required to abide by sanitary codes, among other things. Undoubtedly attitudes must change and care must be taken to implement realistic and common sensical measures.

Getting back to merry old England and London town — there is much to be done to rectify problems. They appear to be very similar to those that this discussion covers. And if one is to out-fox the foxes, he must find someone who is more clever than the fox.

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