Its stars already have a Facebook fan club and the web audience has beaten Big Brother. A Channel 4 live study of urban foxes has gripped viewers and helped challenge a perception that the creatures are little more than noisy, scavenging pests.
With up to 40,000 of the animals now prowling our cities, Foxes Live: Wild in the City aims to investigate how Britain’s most controversial animal survives in the urban environment and asks if humans, and our pets, can safely co-exist alongside them.
The producers use CCTV cameras, satellite GPS tags and “den cams” to track the foxes from mating sessions in garden sheds to industrial estates.
Viewers are asked to log fox “sightings” on the show’s website channel4.com/foxes to create the UK’s first fox “census”, during the two-week experiment.
The audience enthusiasm has surprised Channel 4. During the first live broadcast on Monday,more than 1,000 page views per second were recorded, equivalent to an eviction on Big Brother during the series’ peak.
The web views spiked when presenter Anita Rani released Chico back into the environment in Manchester. The fox was cornered by a dog after entering a chicken coop and killing four birds. The “rehabilitated” fox was treated for mange and fixed with a GPS tracking collar.
The first programme was watched by 1.8 million viewers. Nightly updates follow the Channel 4 News, incorporating the latest footage sent from members of the public. The fox sightings interactive map has already had 7,000 entries logged.
Like his fellow stars, Diesel and Dora, Chico has his own webpage which includes admiring comments from Facebook supporters, who follow his progress, pinpointed hourly via a Google aerial view on the Foxes Live map.
There were however concerns over one of the Foxes Live stars, Loxy, who was found suffering from fever and with a dead cub in her birth canal.
The Essex vixen, last sighted in Canonbury, vanished from the map but the producers assured viewers that this was because she had disappeared down a hole into a satellite tracking “black spot”. Loxy was alive and well, they confirmed.
Channel 4 will next week run three hour-long episodes of the series. The project was timed for early May because this is the time of year vixens give birth and cubs begin to venture out of dens.
The RSPCA has backed the series, which features experts including Dr Dawn Scott, head of biology and biomedical sciences division at the University of Brighton.