The Streetwise Cousin Of the Cautious Country Fox
FOXES have long been given what is known as ``bad press.'' Book after book has presented them as sly and cunning. They may look like gentlemen, but hidden behind the smooth talk and the charm lurks danger! When Walt Disney wanted a plausible but wicked character to lead Pinnochio astray, he chose a fox. When Beatrix Potter wanted to trick a rather silly white duck in a poke bonnet, she chose a fox. When the Greek writer of fables, over 2,000 years ago, wanted an animal to represent cleverness or craftiness, he, too, chose the fox. But Aesop sometimes wrote about foxes as sad victims of circumstance; he saw that even this wily creature has two sides to its nature.Skip to next paragraph
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Keeping ducks in our back garden, I must admit we have developed a suspicion of foxes. This may strike you as odd when I tell you that we live in a city. But the fact is that foxes live here too, and we have to watch out! City foxes, no less than their country cousins, have a taste for duck....
I happen to think that city foxes should know better. Beatrix Potter and Aesop both wrote versions of the story of ``The City Mouse and the Country Mouse,'' the point being that mice behave differently in these two quite different habitats. In the city they depend on the waste provided (usually unwittingly) by all the humans. In the country they live by different rules and feed on food provided directly by nature. The point is, of course, that everyone thinks of ``wild'' animals - even little ones - as naturally belonging in the country. If they set up in cities, it seems somehow unnatural. And yet vast numbers of people clearly think cities are the best place for people to live in ... and more and more wild animals are following suit. At least it seems like that; but maybe wild animals have always been city dwellers, or for centuries anyway, if Aesop's mousey ``Citizen of the Town'' is anything to go by. Either way, it isn't just that they stray into cities by mistake like Miss Potter's country mouse doe s. They show every sign of actually preferring cities.
I've lived in the country and in the city. In the country I saw wild animals and birds that I've never seen in the city: hares, badgers, curlews, owls. But the longer I live in the city the more amazed I am at how much wildlife there is also living here successfully and with obvious satisfaction.
Admittedly we live in a sort of suburb in the city. There are parks and golf courses all around, and the houses all have gardens, so there are plenty of trees and bushes. All the same this is definitely city. A major highway runs along by a railway only a few hundred yards from our house and traffic even on the side roads is frequent. Double- and single-decker buses pursue their route nearby. Helicopters throb overhead, aircraft streak across the sky, and the whole te aming city of Glasgow, with its crowded roofs and endless crisscrossing lines of street lights, is laid out across our view like a stage backdrop. Ibrox football stadium stands enormous down by the gas storage tanks, and on match nights crowds of supporters swarm in and take over the area (a different kind of wild animal!). As the match progresses great surges of mass cheering or collective shock-horror (as goals are scored or yet another goal is missed) waft relentlessly through our windows. City all right .
Yet one morning at breakfast time there was a heron balancing uncertainly on a small tree in a neighboring garden. One afternoon there was a hedgehog running - a bit startled, it's true - along a sidewalk. Three weeks ago three strange-looking birds, with crests on their heads, shared a spindly sapling on the bank by the highway, unaware, apparently, of the charging traffic; what kind of birds they were I have been quite unable to discover in bird books. I think some freak wind must have blown them off course.
Ten days ago my dog and I both almost stumbled over a weasel scudding swiftly along the bottom of a garden wall and twisting sinuously through a gateway of the local private girls' school to vanish in undergrowth. A student driver and her instructor saw it too, and looked duly astounded, unable to believe their eyes. Fortunately the car was stationary at that moment so it didn't drive into a lamppost.