There is a certain amount of ignorance that exists among urban dwellers, especially those in the United Kingdom, a nation that has killed off all its large predatory mammals and left the countryside to the red fox and the European badger.
This ignorance sees animals like red foxes as noble creatures on the same level as dogs, which means that it is inherently immoral to kill them for any reason.
Anyone who kills a fox in the UK is automatically demonized to almost the same level as a pedophile.
I find this utterly shocking. I have never killed a fox, but members of my family certainly have. During the ’60’s and ’70’s, my father’s family made a decent income trapping and shooting foxes for their fur. These foxes financed long industrial strikes, which I thought most of the socialist Brits would support. These actually were red foxes, whose pelts uplifting the plight of the working class, which also financed my grandfather’s relatively generous retirement, a lot of which was actually spent on improving habitat for wildlife.
My grandpa knew the red fox inside and out. He knew just where to place his traps, and he also knew how to modify them to hold the fox as humanely as possible. It was not about the torture of the fox. It was about catching and holding it as soundly as possible.
When fox numbers were so strictly controlled through this profitable culling, there were plenty of game birds around. Ruffed grouse existed in numbers that I cannot even imagine today. Now, it’s certainly true that ruffed grouse prefer early succession forests to mature ones, and because timber prices are so low, most of the forests have been allowed to mature beyond their optimum harvest date.
But I don’t think that having uncontrolled fox numbers is actually a good thing for ruffed grouse numbers.
Of course, red foxes are being controlled through coyote predation, and coyotes don’t really waste their time on ruffed grouse– too hard to catch and too small a meal.
If coyotes control fox numbers, then it will be likely be a good thing for ruffed grouse.
What I’ve just described to you is something that is well-understood in the ecological literature. This particular case, of course, has not been confirmed in any study, but I certainly do think it’s worth examining. (It has been confirmed with ducks, coyotes, and foxes, however.)
This phenomenon is called the mesopredator release hypothesis, and it is actually been confirmed time and again in the wildlife management and ecology literature.
The hypothesis goes like this:
Historically, our ecosystems were full of large, slowly reproducing predators– wolves, tigers, cougars, great whites etc. These are the so-called apex predat
And these predators hunted big game, but they also hunted smaller predators that reproduce relatively quickly, like foxes, raccoons, stingrays, etc.
These smaller predators evolved to have very high reproduction rates. It was the only way they could keep their numbers going through a constant onslaught of predation from the bigger predators.
The smaller predators hunted smaller prey, and these prey animals were often too small for the bigger ones to waste time chasing.
So the bigger predators kept the smaller ones under control, just as the smaller ones had evolved to produce more and more offspring. Smaller predators did not significantly reduce populations of smaller animals because their numbers were controlled by the big ones.
Over the past 10,000 years, man has waged war against the bigger predators. We’ve killed off nearly all the lions in Asia, as well as almost all of the cheetahs. Wolves are gone from much of Europe and the United States. Both wolves and Eurasian lynx are gone from Great Britain, and since foxhunting has been banned, the only thing controlling foxes are cars and shooters. And mange, of course.
In this world, mesopredators are still reproducing at the same level they always were, but nothing is controlling their numbers.
Small prey species suddenly find themselves experiencing high levels of predation, and their numbers begin to drop.
At this point, we are never going to have the same ecosystems that we had before. We are not going to have vast populations of wolves controlling the fox numbers any time soon.
So the solution to this problem is to cull them.
And that’s why I don’t denigrate the fur trade. It’s why I don’t cry about foxhunters and foxhounds. It’s also why I don’t worship at the altar of feral cat protection. Feral cats are part of the mesopredator problem as well, and they might actually be the worst offender after the red fox.
There are valid scientific reasons why we must control the numbers of mesopredators, and being so squeamish about controlling foxes or cats or raccoons is being more of an animal rights fanatic than it is being a conservationist.
Animal rights is actually not about ecology, and the way it is logic falls, the right of any animal to life trumps sound wildlife management.