NewsFurry city dwellers: foxes are drawn to the big...

Furry city dwellers: foxes are drawn to the big cities

Created: 08/23/2022, 09:39 am

Theo der Rotfuchs
Red fox Theo on the grounds of Bellevue Palace in Berlin. © Wolfgang Kumm/dpa

In Berlin they cavort in authorities, in buses and on the roof. Foxes are more common in some major cities than in many wooded areas. What’s it all about?

Berlin – If a shoe is missing in front of the front door in Berlin, then the assumption is that it was a fox. The animals are no longer a rarity in big cities, they can now be found almost everywhere in the capital.

It can also happen that a specimen is romping around on a roof, takes a seat in a bus or has to be captured in a carton by an authority.

“It can also happen that a fox sits on the picnic blanket in the botanical garden,” says wildlife expert Sophia Kimmig, who has been researching the life of foxes in the city for several years. On the meadow in front of the Berlin Reichstag, the chances of meeting the graceful animals with mostly red fur and amber-colored eyes are particularly good at dusk.

10,000 to 15,000 foxes in Berlin

And the red-haired permanent guest in the garden of Bellevue Palace even has a name – “Theo” after the former Federal President Theodor Heuss. More than 10,000 Instagram users had previously participated in finding the name. “According to estimates, around 10,000 to 15,000 foxes live in Berlin, but the absolute majority are secretly and unnoticed by us,” says wildlife biologist and author Kimmig (“Of Foxes and People”).

Other major German cities are also inhabited by foxes. The animals are often even more widespread there than their conspecifics in the wild. “In Munich-Schwabing, for example, the density of foxes is 10 to 15 times higher than in the Bavarian Forest,” says Kimmig.

A relatively large number of foxes also lived in Zurich, for example, with eleven or in Bristol, England, with 19 animals per square kilometer. In Germany, there are an average of 0.5 to 1.5 foxes per square kilometer in rural areas.

The urban fox is more a gatherer than a hunter

On the one hand, large cities are interesting because of their food supply. “Foxes feed mainly on mice, but also rats and earthworms, and they also like fallen fruit in people’s gardens and rubbish,” says Kimmig. “In the city, foxes tend to be collectors rather than hunters,” adds Derk Ehlert, wildlife expert at the Berlin Senate Department for the Environment.

In addition, larger cities are particularly well suited as living space due to their heterogeneous structure. “The fox doesn’t necessarily need a lot of green, but above all opportunities to retreat such as fallow land and fenced-in areas,” says Kimmig. “The foxes are extremely good at finding places in the city where we humans aren’t.”

The heat doesn’t bother the animals that much. “The fox is one of the few species in the city that can take the heat well,” says Kimmig. The fox mainly gets its fluid requirements from mice. “Foxes can withstand an extremely wide range of temperatures. The fox is the most successful land predator on earth because it is so flexible,” says Kimmig.

The greatest disturbance and stress factor for the animals in the city is the human being. Foxes have been hunted in the wild for centuries, more so in Germany than anywhere else in Europe. “Around 450,000 foxes are killed in Germany every year,” says Kimmig. From a scientific point of view, this practice is questionable, because various studies have shown that the size of fox populations regulates itself through food and social structures.

Urban foxes often only live to be two years old

Because the fear of humans is great, foxes often misjudge the risks. “A passer-by appears more threatening than a car,” says Kimmig. That’s why foxes often retreat to supposedly safer but busy places such as streets or railway lines. “They often pay for it with their lives,” says Kimmig. In the city, the animals are often only one to two years old, although they could actually live for eight to nine years.

But even city dwellers are sometimes unsettled when they encounter the animals: “Foxes are the number one species in our consultations. We get an average of 1,000 calls per year about foxes – out of a total of around 4,500 calls,” reports Claudia Harnisch from the wildlife phone of the Nature Conservation Union (Nabu). It’s often about taking away people’s fears. “In principle, foxes do not pose any danger,” says Harnisch. “There hasn’t been a fox tapeworm detected in Berlin for 30 years,” says wildlife expert Ehlert. “And we haven’t had fox rabies in the city for several decades,” he adds.

Fuchs in Berlin
A young fox on a roof in Berlin-Charlottenburg. © Police Berlin / dpa

Problematic incidents with foxes are extremely rare. “I can count on one hand the cases that I am aware of over the past 20 years and they are all due to human error,” says Ehlert. “A fox was once picked up and surprised that one was bitten.”

Kimmig, Sophia: Of foxes and humans: On the trail of our clever neighbors – as a wildlife biologist on the road in the big city. A portrait of Germany’s most famous wild animal, EAN 978-3-89029-547-3 dpa

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