Hampstead goes in search of incontinent lions

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The Independent Online
After rocket salad and extra virgin olive oil, the latest "must have" for London's angst-ridden urban middle class is lion dung.

Staff at the country's zoos are reporting an increase in requests for the droppings of their big cats. The doo - apparently tiger poo is just as good - is not wanted for some new age, earthy face-pack or even as a chic substitute for horse manure on the roses. It's to keep the foxes off.

If the callers sound desperate, and they often do, that is because the zoo is their last resort. The gardens of Hampstead and other London suburbs are becoming overrun by foxes. A straw poll in a Hampstead school revealed that 75 per cent of pupils had a fox at the bottom of their garden.

And lion dung, if you can get it, is one way to get rid of them.

Apparently it is the powerful, pungent smell the foxes cannot stand. For the harassed home-owners, fed up with bits of dead birds, empty food cans and other rubbish scattered across their lawns, but unable to face using guns, traps or chemicals, lions and tigers offer an eco-friendly, PC solution.

These are the type of people who have signed every anti-fox hunting petition thrust in front of them outside Waitrose. Now they are finding out why farmers so hate nice Mr Fox.

For many, like Jan Blackburn of Hampstead, the idea of having a family of foxes at the bottom of the garden was rather sweet. It made her feel as if they lived in the country. The reality, though, has been horrific. "We've discovered everything from dead squirrels to half bats, a rabbit, dirty nappies and empty food cans," said a crushed Mrs Blackburn. "It's unhealthy and unhygienic and potentially dangerous." The last straw for one resident was when his Timberland deck shoe went missing - cub foxes, like puppies, love something to chew.

Camden council, the RSPCA, the police and garden centres have all been unable to find an answer. Only lions and tigers, so it is said over the dinner party tables, offer any hope. A London Zoo spokeswoman confirmed their excrement is reputed to have this propensity and the zoo had received a "steady stream" of requests for it recently. There was a problem, however: London Zoo will not sell the stuff because it needs to be screened for disease-carrying microbes. Mind you, she did know Chester Zoo is selling elephant poo.