Well-meaning residents who leave food out for urban foxes - attracting them to back gardens - have been urged to stop treating the animals as pets after a baby boy had his finger bitten off.
The one-month-old boy was recovering in hospital last night after being attacked by a fox that got into his bedroom in Lewisham, south-east London. Paul Dolan and Hayley Cawley, 28, are with their son, Denny, at Evelina Children's Hospital within St Thomas' Hospital in Lambeth.
Lorraine Murphy, the child's aunt, told a newspaper last night: "It was so traumatic. The family are devastated. I spoke to my brother at the hospital, but he couldn't even talk. Denny's lovely - he was a perfect baby."
She said his mother rushed into his bedroom to find the fox dragging him out of the room.
Surgeons managed to reattach his finger after the boy's mother pulled the fox away, police said. Animal experts described such attacks as "incredibly rare", but there are rising fears that foxes are losing their fear of people in towns and cities where their numbers have swelled over recent decades,
RSPCA spokeswoman Klare Kennett said she was aware that some people leave sausages and other treats for foxes in their back gardens as they would for a pet. "The problem is that people are feeding them," she said. "They're putting food out for them in their back gardens - then one thing leads to another, and they're surprised when they go inside their homes."
The attack last Wednesday, which was reported to police after the baby's mother discovered her child screaming in its bedroom with its hand in the animal's mouth, prompted the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to call on borough leaders to take action, labelling urban foxes "a pest and a menace".
Richard Moseley, from the British Pest Control Association, told the BBC: "What we are finding is that as people feed foxes and encourage foxes to come closer to their properties... they are becoming tamer and people do have to remember that at the end of the day they are still wild animals."
Tim Stevens, the councillor at neighbouring Bromley Council responsible for public protection and safety, said that foxes have been problematic in the area for several years.
"The most important thing is not to feed them," he said. "I'm aware of people who admit to feeding foxes in their back yards."
He backed a limited cull but said it would work only if foxes were slaughtered across London in a co-ordinated programme.