Despite her initial opinions on foxes, Lucy Goacher came to love their visits to her garden. They came for the food she left out, and in return they offered some great photo opportunities. Then one day, Goacher watched in surprise as another creature pushed through the foxes towards the food bowl.
Goacher has lived in West Sussex, England, ever since she was a child. During that time, she’s grown fond of the local wildlife – even the ones that have fallen into disrepute. Take foxes, for example – many people consider them nuisances.
Admittedly, they are trouble for people who own animals such as rabbits or chickens and poultry. Foxes are clever creatures, so keeping a hungry hunter away from livestock isn’t easy. But that aside, they generally pose little threat to companion animals.
However, some members of public are concerned that foxes will attack their pets. Anita Kelsey, cat blogger, asked BBC Wildlife in 2014 if foxes were dangerous to cats. It answered largely to the negative, stating, “Foxes and cats meet many times every night, and invariably ignore each other.”
“When a fight does break out,” BBC Wildlife continued, “it’s often the fox that comes off worse in the encounter.” Similarly, they’re more likely to ignore dogs, since foxes don’t consider canines as potential prey. Nevertheless, Goacher wasn’t aware of this initially.
“My family and I have had fox visitors for years,” Goacher informed The Dodo on June 29, 2018. “But like a lot of people we believed they were dangerous creatures, and that they’d be a danger to our cats.” Eventually, though, Goacher saw a new side to them.
“But a few years ago we realized how gentle they really are,” Goacher explained. As a result of vanishing habitats, English foxes are struggling to find food in urban environments. Because of this, the Wildlife Trusts of Birmingham and Black Country encourage leaving food and water out for them.
As long as they’re not overfed, feeding foxes can be a beneficial arrangement. The foxes get their food, and humans can watch them from afar. Unfortunately, this is not so in the U.S., where leaving morsels out for them is discouraged. It’s even a crime in some states.
With the plight of the English fox in mind, Goacher decided to give them a chance. In 2016 she began laying out food bowls for them, and started watching the foxes that came to her yard. She quickly saw through their bad reputation and fell for their charms.
Goacher’s offering brought a group of local foxes to her garden, and soon she was hosting four of them. And they didn’t just pay fleeting visits either. Knowing where they could get an easy meal, the foxes returned nearly every night.
In fact, she saw her new friends often enough to get some beautiful pictures of them. Not only did she capture them eating, she also took pictures of them relaxing and exploring. One shot even shows Goacher’s cat intimidating a member of the fox skulk.
Then one day the proffered food lured another creature to the animal lover’s yard – an inquisitive hedgehog. Foxes aren’t avid hunters of hedgehogs, but they do prey on them, albeit rarely. Initially, the new visitor avoided contact with the foxes by waiting until they had left.
After a few nights, however, the hedgehog grew tired of being last in the pecking order. Consequently, he made a daring move and ambled his way right past the assembled foxes to the food bowls. Goacher couldn’t believe what she was seeing.
“He marched straight through the assembled foxes and started on a bowl,” Goacher recounted. “I was terrified they’d attack him. But instead they just looked at him with curiosity, like they couldn’t believe his boldness, and they left him alone to munch away.”
Since that night, the foxes gave the hedgehog a wide berth. It’s unclear whether this was because they respected his confidence or feared his spikes. Regardless, the results were the same – the hedgehog ate alone. That is, until a curious fox approached him.
In a friendship reminiscent of a Disney movie, the fox and hedgehog became firm friends. Indeed, they grew so close that they even shared food bowls at meal times. Before long they were enjoying consistent meals together, much to Goacher’s surprise.
“He’s very happy to eat beside the hedgehog,” Goacher said, and with good reason. Being friends with his prickly pal provides the fox with an advantage over his more bashful buddies. For example, he gets first pick of all the food bowls.
In addition, the other foxes are less likely to steal the hedgehog’s food while his friend watches his back. It would appear that in accepting each other, the animals have found teamwork to be highly beneficial. Goacher is certainly pleased to see them getting along.
Goacher told The Dodo, “I assumed the hedgehog would be in danger, or at least avoid the foxes entirely. But they’re united by their mutual love of free and plentiful food. Something that can be said for most humans too, I imagine.”
“Not all the foxes are happy about this themselves,” Goacher’s Facebook page explained on June 26, 2018. “A couple will sit on the grass, glaring as the VIP guest munches its way through bowl after bowl, patiently waiting their turn for some dinner.” However, they put up with it. “So despite its small stature,” Goacher concluded, “The Hoggo runs the joint!”