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.

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor