For Fox’s Sake – please do NOT hand-feed or pet a wild fox! This is not in the fox’s interest but puts them in grave danger. “When you hand-feed a fox you train them to associate a human hand with food.” says Professor Dawn Scott, the UK’s leading fox expert. She strongly advises against hand-feeding because with time a conditioned fox may approach other humans whose gardens they visit, begging for food by touching or nibbling on their hand. This person might feel threatened and “attacked” by the fox and in a worst-case scenario that person might get the “aggressive” fox culled. Every summer the tabloids are full with fake news and sensationalist headlines like “Deranged Fox Bit My Finger” and these perpetuate the distorted image of the fox as villains that are a danger to humans when in reality we are the foxes’ predators and a danger to them.
I understand how tempting it is to reach out and make that connection with a curious wild animal that may come within an arms-length of you. Wide-eyed juvenile foxes are exploring the world right now and as most have not yet learnt that humans can be cruel, these naïve youngsters approach humans in a playful manner. Let these cubs approach you and allow them to have a sniff but don’t hand-feed them, play with them, stroke them or let them into your house.
Over the recent weeks I have seen a worrying trend on social media where people post clip after clip of them hand-feeding a fox and in some cases even stroke the fox or place a finger into a fox’s jaw, teasing the fox whilst feeding them. This is so confusing for a fox. They are chewing a sausage whilst you place a finger in their jaw – how are they supposed to know the difference between food and your body whilst you are rewarding them for nibbling your finger by feeding them? There are also endless clips online featuring foxes that are being fed in someone’s kitchen or foxes exploring rooms or interacting with humans. These foxes having been encouraged to come inside the house with a trail of food. I consider this human behaviour incredibly irresponsible towards the fox and utterly selfish. Look what I can do!! I can tame a fox and make them perform at cue to eat from my hand or jump onto my sofa. This is not a special achievement but anyone with time on their hands and food in their hands and a gullible audience of curious cubs can do this. For the sake of lots of likes and gaining more followers, you are trying to tame, claim and “own” an animal whose beauty comes from the very fact that are wild and free. These animals are not “ours”, they are no pets but little wildlings. We are their predators and they should be weary of us in the interest of their own safety. We can watch them and support them by offering shelter, water and some supplementary food but this animal should always be free to choose what they do rather than being trained to become a social media circus act.
Just because we can do something does not mean we should do it. “You don’t just reach out and grab someone because you can or because they are smaller than you.” writes biologist Prof Catherine Raven in her book “Fox & I” and I completely agree. Over the years I was tempted many times to reach out and touch those foxes that trusted me, curled up and slept next to me or in Faithy’s case greeted me with a foxy nose-bump. But I always felt that there was a sacred line I must never cross. All encounters should happen on the wild animal’s terms and to cross the line and claim a wild fox as “yours” by touching and training them, is a breach of the trust this vulnerable animal puts in you.
I do not want to name and shame the many social media accounts that post this irresponsible content on a daily basis. I did express my concerns in comments to their posts but they were quickly deleted. I ask you as fox friends and guardians to please not like and share this kind of content and if you feel uneasy about what is being posted, maybe express your concern in a comment or message.
I believe that as a content creator we have a huge responsibility what we post because we are setting an example. The more people post videos of hand-feeding or stroking wild foxes, the more people will copy them and then post their clips and it becomes acceptable behaviour when it should be anything but. Put the animal and their safety first. Full Stop.