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Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Urban Foxes, raccoons and other creatures great and small

The London Urban foxes do not look like the smaller country cousin versions. These urban opportunists are as large as a medium sized dog and at this time of year, more grey than red.

I saw one last night here in Bayswater limping with a sore paw. It was at least three feet long not counting the enormous tail. We have taken over the natural habitats of these mammals, just as in America, where the coyotes now come into some cities, as well as wolves, (which I have seen in small towns in Iowa in the winter about 12 years ago).

Men and other animals have had a love-hate relationship for centuries. However, one group is becoming extinct and does not have a replacement rate and it is not the fox family.

I know they like garbage, but I wonder if they eat pigeons?  Like raccoons in the States, these foxes can be dangerous. Animals are wild, as I remind children, not tame. Urban raccoons have lived in my home city since I have been a child. They have horrible claws and can tear up metal siding on houses to create dens in attics. Last summer, my mother was sitting on a garden bench with her neighbour, in the neighbours' back yard when it started raining baby raccoons. The mother was flinging these now weaned ones out of the attic above the ladies, heads and the young ones were flying over their heads, landing on the grass and toddling away. Then came mom....raccoons can weigh up to 40 pounds, and this maternal example was big. This was not the first time the neighbours had raccoons in the attic. Over a four year period, they had replaced aluminium siding, but the animals tore it back to get inside and have babies; and this is a huge old farmhouse.

Animals may sense that as we lose our ability to control out cities, they can reclaim lost territory....

My son was emptying garbage in DeWitt, Iowa years ago and  he was a small eleven year old. He came in and said, "Mum, there are two large, white fluffy dogs over by the dumpster." I knew these were not dogs. The snow had come, was laying about four feet and higher in drifts, and I told him to stay in the house while I went outside. Two beautiful wolves were standing about two feet from the garbage area. I yelled at them and these noble animals back off. Sadly, the pair ended up killed after a huge snowstorm hit the area and semis were in the ditches.. Animals cannot deal with highways or heavy traffic. I saw one dead on the side of the road about a month later and the other shortly  after that.

In the summer of 2010, in northern Missouri, close to the Iowa border, we saw a black bear. That is the furthest south I had ever seen one, or north, if one had seen them in the Ozarks area. The population is growing. I had seen these in northern Wisconsin, up by Rhinelander and near the Wisconsin-Minnesota border. But, to see a fair-sized bear in Missouri, scratching its back on a tree on a small farm by the side of the road was a first for me in that area.

Cougars have been coming into towns and cities in some Canadian and Northwest cities in America, and other cats are making a comeback. Bobcats had seemed to have disappeared since my adolescence in Iowa, but are now seen more commonly in areas where these have not been noticed for years. The movement of animals also has to do with the fact that less people hunt for food and that some animals are protected. Somehow, we need to find the right balance. Bobcats are beautiful animals and solitary. One rarely sees more than two. Can the elk and bison come back as well, I wonder. The deer are plentiful, and we saw them daily in DeWitt or on the outskirts.

I include an older video of Bald Eagles. My son and I have seen hundreds at one time up by Bellevue, Iowa in January. The sight is awesome.