We are all familiar with the Christmas card perception of the animal pictured below. The furry hugable creature lying snugly in its lair as the snow falls outside. This perception is a myth, which has been perpetrated by those in the animal welfare movement, not it must be said out of any great love for animals, but rather in pursuit of their own anti-rural
The Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes or Reynard as he is known to those of us who are familiar with him in his true guise, and not the Christmas card version, is Ireland's natural born killer. Long renowned for its cleverness through depiction in fairy tales and songs, Vulpes vulpes is Ireland's only species of fox. Its range covers all Europe and into North Africa and parts of Asia. There is another species of Red Fox resident in North America, Vuples Fulva, which is smaller than our species.
Although they may be aesthetically pleasing, foxes kill with a ruthless ferocity which is unrivalled in the Irish animal kingdom, save by the mink. Foxes will kill to eat, and go on killing long after their hunger is quelled, often returning to the scene of a successful night's work to continue the job the following night - that is, if they have left anything alive to return to. A conversation with any farmer at lambing time, poultry owner or gun club member, managing a Game Release Programme will confirm this. Foxes devastate gamebirds and other wildlife populations, such as the Hare, whose young, the Leveret, being reared above ground proves an easy target. The fox will also dig to get at the Doe Rabbit and her young. In areas where fox populations have exploded due to lack of proper wildlife management, the fox has wreaked havoc on both wild and farm animal populations.
In the Irish context, Peter Robertson of the Game Conservancy, studied
the ecology of Pheasants on the Lyons Estate at UCD and the results confirmed
how harmful Foxes can be to Pheasant survival. It should be noted
that his work and the work of others was carried out in an area where Foxes
and other predators are subject to rigorous control. His work also
found the dramatic negative affect the Fox can have on Partridge populations.
Zoologists agree that Ireland has a minimum Fox population of 150,000. NARGC clubs in their wildlife management programmes cull between 25,000 and 30,000 foxes annually. If we assume that 50% of the agreed population
figure is female (vixen) and we conservatively estimate that each female rears only one cub to maturity each year, we can see that the NARGC cull amounts to one-third of the replacement progeny population. The Fox is at the top of the food chain in Ireland and has no natural enemies to keep population numbers in check. A further point is that in the event of a rabies outbreak, these population figures are well beyond the scope of any Government containment plan. In areas of over-population, the Fox becomes his own worst enemy by over exploiting the carrying capacity of the areas resulting in decimation of other prey species populations and eventually, a hungry disease ridden Fox.
Reynard is alive and thriving, population-wise, in Ireland. There is no doubt that the species is in need of control, given its tendency to predate on lambs, poultry and the damage it causes to game and other wildlife populations. Well structured wildlife management programmes, such as those practiced by the NARGC are the only way to ensure a healthy balance between Vuples vulpes and its prey.
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