The curious incident of the fox in the night

The hunt is on for a fox that apparently attacked two baby girls in their bedroom. Andy McSmith reports

A A A

Some people get real pleasure from looking out of the window at home in the early evening to see a wild fox loping across the garden. These graceful creatures, famous in mythology for their cunning, have fired the human imagination for centuries.

But the fox's reputation as an unobtrusive cohabitant of human cities took a severe knock yesterday after two baby girls were taken to hospital – having apparently been bitten by an animal who wandered into a three-storey Victorian house in Hackney, through patio doors left open because of the heat.

The nine-month-old twins, Lola and Isabella Koupparis, were sleeping in their cots while their parents watched television downstairs with the twins' four-year-old brother.

"We were watching Britain's Got Talent, it had just finished," the twins' mother, Pauline Koupparis told BBC London yesterday. "We heard the girls cry. I went up the stairs. As soon as I got to the second step I thought it's a funny cry, it's not a normal cry. It was quite muffled but very pained.

"I went into the room and I saw some blood on Isabella's cot. I thought she'd had a nose bleed. I put on the light and I've seen the fox. It wasn't even scared of me. It just stared me straight in the eye. I started screaming. Then I realised that Lola was also covered in blood. My husband came running up – by this stage we were both screaming hysterically – and the fox didn't even move. My husband lunged at it a few times and it just moved a few inches each time."

One girl, who slept on her back, had been bitten on the face. The other, who was asleep on her stomach, had been bitten on the arm. Both were taken to hospital. Isabella, who was bitten on the arm, is in intensive care. Police described the condition of both twins as "serious but stable".

Asked how her daughters were faring yesterday, Mrs Koupparis said: "One is really good and one is not so good." She added: "It's a living nightmare. It's something I would never have expected to happen – let alone to us and my beautiful girls."

The day after the attack, pest control officers from Hackney Council set traps in the Koupparis's garden and caught a fox, which was humanely put down – but they do not know whether it was the same animal which attacked the twin girls.

The news came as a shock to people who have spent their working lives studying the behaviour of foxes. They said it is extremely rare for one of the animals to attack a human, although there have been other occasional reports of similar incidents.

In Edinburgh five years ago, an 88-year-old woman was bitten by a fox when she went out into her garden late in the evening to feed her cats. In 2002, a fox reportedly crept into a house in Dartford, Kent, and bit a 14-week-old boy on the head.

John Bryant, a pest-control consultant who specialises in foxes, told BBC's Today programme that he had dealt with only two alleged fox attacks in 40 years. In one case the "fox" proved to be an Alsatian dog, and the other was a cat. He described the attack on the baby girls as a "freakish event".

"It's not, in my experience, fox behaviour," he added. "If it was a fox, it must have been a cub. There are thousands of three-month-old teenage cubs now wandering around, beginning to explore their parents' territory. They will walk into houses, walk round, mess on the bathroom floor and sometimes sleep on the bed if people are not around."

Martin Hemmington, founder of the rescue charity the National Fox Welfare Society, said urban foxes will usually avoid contact with humans. "It takes quite a lot of effort to catch them," he said. "Walking into people's houses is not commonplace and they would never go in with the intention of attacking someone. I can only imagine the fox has found itself in a situation and it has become distressed and panicked. They are wild animals and will bite if cornered."

But Ricky Clark, a rat catcher who runs the London-based firm Environ Pest Control, warned: "Yes, it's unusual, but it will happen again. We have 25,000-30,000 foxes in London alone, and they are losing their fear of humans. I've been getting calls from people who say, 'We've just had a fox come through our cat flap and it's in the sitting room'. I've caught foxes in kitchens, in basements, even in nightclubs. These aren't the cuddly little red furry animals some people think they are. It's not Basil Brush we're dealing with here. These are feral animals, full of diseases.

"In some circumstances, their faeces are more dangerous than rat droppings. They need to be controlled, and people should not feed them."

Hackney Council yesterday urged people not to feed foxes, either deliberately or unintentionally, by leaving food out in unprotected rubbish bags.

Furry friend or foe?

*The University of Bristol's Mammal Research Unit estimates there are 258,000 adult foxes in Britain, including 33,000 living in urban areas.



*The highly adaptable red fox has been colonising British cities since the 1930s. It has been a common sight in south London since the 1950s, and will go anywhere there are sizeable back gardens.



*From the 1940s until the 1970s, the Ministry of Agriculture and the London boroughs tried to reduce fox numbers by killing them. It was expensive – and ineffective. Each dead animal left a vacant territory which was soon taken over by another fox.



*The most effective methods for killing foxes used by the Victorians – gin traps and mass poisoning – are now illegal.



*Killing foxes is unpopular. In a survey of 4,000 households, nearly two-thirds said they liked urban foxes and only about one in 12 disliked them.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: LGV Driver - Category C or C+E

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This national Company that manu...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - OTE £30,000

£13000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?