Foxes are a major reason for the hedgehog decline

Thousands of hedgehogs are killed each year by foxes. Lots of these are females with babies in the nest. In very few cases the babies will be found and hand reared. The rest die of starvation. So, one dead mum means 5 or 6 dead hedgehogs in one go.

I always used to tell people “Foxes are not a problem or danger to hedgehogs. A fox will take and kill a baby, a weak or an old hedgehog but an adult will curl up and be protected by its spines”.  I was wrong. Sadly our experiences over the years have taught us differently.

Foxes have learned how to grab hold of and maim or kill hedgehogs.  What happens is:

  • The fox pounces on a hedgehog which curls up on contact.
  • The fox freezes and stays perfectly still about 2 foot away from the rear of the hedgehog.
  • The hedgehog hearing nothing, thinks it is safe and slowly uncurls. As it puts its back legs out to run, the fox springs, grabs the hedgehog’s back legs with its long snout and bites.
  • An adult hedgehog will curl up  but the damage has already been done. In a split second the fox’s sharp strong teeth break and crush the bones or bite the leg off completely. The hedgehog will be left screaming and crippled to die in agony from its injuries.
  • A small or weak hedgehog won’t be able to curl up quickly enough and the fox will bite and eviscerate the hedgehog (rip out its guts) as well.

 

 

With its acute sense of hearing, the fox can locate small mammals in thick grass and undergrowth and jumps high in the air to pounce on the prey. The foxes also stalk prey keeping hidden until close enough to catch them in a short dash. They are opportunistic feeders that hunt live prey, using a pouncing technique practiced from an early age. A hedgehog walking in the undergrowth makes a rustling noise, attracting the fox which grabs it.

How have we come to this conclusion?

We didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly decided to hate foxes. I wrote this article based on the facts and my experiences of recent years.

Ever since we started in 2002, we have been so puzzled by the number of hedgehogs with similar injuries. These were not just isolated incidents.  We saw the same injuries on hedgehogs from a wide area: Loughton, Epping, Harlow, Waltham Cross, Hertford, Romford, Dagenham, Walthamstow, Leytonstone, Bishops Stortford, Brentwood, Basildon. ( A radius of 20-30 miles from us).

There wasn’t any obvious link to what was causing these injuries. Some people said to me that shortly before finding the hedgehogs, they had heard foxes squealing and barking. I had dismissed it and said “Foxes don’t cause those sort of injuries”.  I was wrong. We now know foxes definitely do cause these injuries.

Being hit by a car would have caused much more severe injuries and not only broken and crushed hind legs. Dog bites are different, with deep puncture wounds and tears to the flesh on the back. Dogs don’t bite off or crush a hedgehog’s back legs.

It was only when I saw the fox actually attack the hedgehogs in my enclosed garden causing the same type of injuries that we had been seeing for years, that we had the answer. It had taken several years and hundreds of victims (dead and severely maimed hedgehogs) to finally understand the cause. 

At the end of June 2008, several hedgehogs in our enclosed garden were suddenly injured, all with the same type of injuries, massive deep cuts to the back legs and broken bones. 3 of them had to be put down.
One of the hedgehogs that had to be euthanized was an adult girl between 1 & 2 years old weighing 1.2kg. Another one vanished completely. We now realize it must have been taken by the fox.

We installed a CCTV camera to monitor the enclosed garden.

The last week of July 2008 we put 3 young hedgehogs in there to build up before release. The first night we heard an terrible scream, looked on the camera monitor and saw a fox which had grabbed one hedgehog and had bitten it underneath. The fox dropped the hedgehog when we turned on the floodlight and immediately went for another one.  The fox pounced and grabbed its back leg. Immediately the hedgehog curled up, forcing the fox to drop it as the spines went into the fox’s face. The damage had already been done though with a gash round the knee area and the leg broken.

All this happened  in less than 2 minutes. It was about 4am.  We heard the scream and rushed out to the garden,  the fox escaped over the fence and 2 hedgehogs were fatally injured. The girl had her stomach ripped open and her guts hanging out and was screaming. The boy was tightly curled up screaming in pain. I took them immediately to the veterinary hospital where the girl was euthanised.  We tried to save the boy, but he didn’t survive the operation and died under the anaesthetic.

They had a couple of hours of partial freedom before suffering a horrendous fate. This shows that foxes don’t just attack babies and young, weak or ill hogs

 

This is a section of an episode from the Channel 5 TV production of Animal Rescue Squad

The video shows a hedgehog having its leg amputated after being attacked by a fox in my garden

Someone sent me this video of a hedgehog being attacked by a fox in their garden in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire2 hedgehogs are feeding, when a fox appears from nowhere, springs and grabs holds of one and runs off with it.
Luckily someone was watching the camera as it happened and rushed out immediately,  shouted and the fox dropped the hedgehog.See how extremely fast the fox is and the speed of the attack. The second hedgehog didn’t even see it happening

Since we started in 2002, we have treated and reared well over 1000 hedgehogs. There is no point in rearing hedgehogs from a few days old, keeping them for several weeks or months and then releasing them just so they can be killed or maimed very quickly by foxes.

Almost all the disabled hedgehogs we have rehomed with amputated legs had injuries consistent with these fox attacks. All the injuries had an identical pattern.

What is so upsetting is the fox isn’t desperate for food. It ignores the food being put out for it and attacks a hedgehog that you would think would be protected by its spines. Anybody would think that once a fox had had a face full of spines it would have learnt its lesson and not attempt to kill hedgehogs, but they don’t. Once they master the technique of catching a hedgehog, (and foxes learn this very quickly) the hedgehogs stand no chance of survival. It is the rustling noise made by a  hedgehog or other small animal  walking that attracts them.

 

 

 

The fox’s teeth are extremely strong allowing the fox to crack open bone to reach the marrow

 

 

 

Foxes are canids ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canidae ) and one of their behaviours is to catch, kill and store food

In recent years the Urban Fox population has spiralled out of control. Their numbers have increased because of the amount of food readily available to them: fast food thrown on the street, people feeding them, rubbish left out, etc. They breed rapidly because of the amount of food available and many more cubs survive to grow up and breed. More and more reports from vets say that cats and small dogs are also being attacked by foxes. Foxes have become increasingly vicious, fearless and aggressive and are no longer scared of dogs. They are now a common sight in broad daylight.

In almost any city or town all over the country you see foxes running up and down the pavements all day and night long. London and its suburbs are absolutely full of them.

 The foxes are mopping up one by one the very few hedgehogs left alive that we humans haven’t managed to kill off.

We CANNOT and WILL NOT declare that urban foxes are harmless. The toll they take on the hedgehog population is enormous.

In many towns and cities, especially London,  it has been estimated that there are between 20 and 30 foxes per square mile. In the country, a single fox might have a territory of at least 2 square miles.

The areas with the largest numbers of foxes are the areas we get the most calls from, saying they have no hedgehogs in their gardens. See http://www.hogwatch.org.uk/  for latest news and maps showing the very few  hedgehogs still seen

The massive decline in the numbers of hedgehogs coincides with an enormous increase in the numbers of urban foxes over the same period of time.

Wildlife centres treat, rear and release hundreds of foxes every year, increasing their numbers even more.

We found this article about foxes which points out that Stephen Harris and Phil Baker discovered that there was a noticeable increase in Bristol’s hedgehog population in the middle of the 1990’s which coincided with the outbreak of mange which drastically reduced fox numbers.

 

Now fox numbers everywhere have increased again, the hedgehog population has declined at an even faster rate.

With all the huge numbers of hedgehogs being treated, reared, rescued and released by all of us, all over the country, their numbers should have increased by now. Instead their decline is faster and faster.
You would expect from the thousands of hedgehogs released each year, a large proportion to survive and multiply. In fact there are none in areas where lots have been released.

So where are they then?

This is very serious. The toll the foxes take on the hedgehog population is enormous. The correlation between the huge numbers of urban foxes and the corresponding decline in hedgehogs has been overlooked, under-estimated or ignored up until now. This is a vital link in the chain of events that leads to the ever- increasing, alarmingly fast decline in hedgehog numbers countrywide.

This is THE missing link in the mystery of the hedgehog’s decline. It is only when you add foxes into the equation it all starts to make sense.

The hedgehogs’ existence has come under a multi-pronged attack. They simply cannot win the battle to survive. Urban conditions are ideal for foxes. There is plenty of food and shelter. Walls and fences are no barriers to foxes who jump and climb easily. On the other hand the same urban conditions are a major problem for hedgehogs. Fences are solid and go deep into the ground. Hedgehogs cannot dig under or climb over them. Overall there is a huge area that is completely unavailable to hedgehogs.

The hedgehog-friendly gardens are few and far between and only offer a minuscule area compared to the massive areas that hedgehogs have been excluded from.

According to a new survey the hedgehog population in gardens fell in 2009. From being seen in almost half of UK gardens, they now appear in only a quarter
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/organicgardening/6642531/Wildlife-its-good-news-for-bees-moths-and-butterflies.html
 
The only wildlife surviving, are those that can fly and escape. This is exactly what we have been saying all along, with the drastic reduction in hedgehogs at the same time as the massive increase in the numbers of urban foxes.

It is just too much of a coincidence to ignore the tremendous increase in fox numbers coupled with the massive drops in frogs, toads and hedgehogs, (slow moving, ground dwelling animals) all of which are heavily predated by foxes.

Read page 2 HERE