The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, gave notice today that he is out to end the “growing menace” of the urban fox after a young baby was attacked in his home in the capital, losing a finger.
As five-week-old Denny Dolan recovered in hospital after having his finger reattached by surgery, Mr Johnson wrote to all 32 London boroughs, putting them on notice that serious anti-fox action was now required, including the possibility of a cull.
It is thought there may be as many as 10,000 foxes now living wild in the capital and there are signs that they are becoming increasingly bold, entering houses and sometimes attacking people, particularly young children. Mr John said yesterday it was time for action.
“We face a growing problem with our urban fox population,” Mr Johnson said. “Personally I wouldn't rule anything in or out, but ultimately this is a matter on which the boroughs must take the lead. Pest control falls to them.”
He went on: “Attacks like that on this little boy thankfully are rare, but foxes are a growing menace. Borough leaders need to look carefully at the facts and work together to respond. Better informing Londoners about foxes in an effort to drive them from our bins and our back yards would be a good place to start.”
Young Denny, from Bromley in south-east London, was discovered by his mother, Hayley Cawley, “being dragged across the room” by a fox which had entered the house, and although the surgery was a success, there are fears that he could lose the use of his hand.
Denny’s aunt, Lorraine Murphy, said yesterday that it was thought the fox had entered through a back door and was trying to drag the baby out of the house when it was discovered.
She said: “Hayley kicked the fox and it ran away, but the baby was covered in blood and his hand was badly damaged. The fox was shaking the baby by the hand in its teeth and hitting him on the door frame. There was blood everywhere.”
Mr Johnson added: “Foxes may appear cuddly and romantic but they are also a pest and a menace, particularly in our cities. This must serve as a wake-up call to London's borough leaders, who are responsible for pest control. They must come together, study the data, try to understand why this is becoming such a problem and act quickly to sort it out.”
But the problem of foxes coming into city homes is one which humans have created, experts warned yesterday.
The animals have been settled into the urban environment for many years and are generally quite secretive, but can be encouraged to venture into homes in areas where they are being fed by people, said the chief executive of The National Pest Technicians Association, John Davison.
“More and more now, people are feeding them and encouraging them to come close,” Mr Davison said. “You will get one fox, and two or three people are putting food out, even trying to get it to take from their hand, and the fox gets used to people and will stray into properties if it thinks there's food.
“It's a problem that we humans have created – it's not the fox’s doing.”
A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said: “Fox attacks on youngsters are extremely rare as faxes by nature will tend to avoid human contact. ”We would encourage people to use humane deterrents and to make sure that there is no food source available if foxes are coming into their gardens and they are concerned.”