It is past 1:00 a.m., and the light fades as the man descends into the hole below. The darkness of the place swallows him up, and he hears only a high-pitched, eerie scream coming from beneath him. Then, as his vision adjusts to the shadows, he can make out two shining eyes…
This man, who is not to be confused with a certain televisual talent-show judge, is Simon Cowell, and he is the founder of a British charity called the Wildlife Aid Foundation. When he’s not leading the organization or fundraising, though, Cowell goes out on call to take a hands-on approach to rescuing wildlife.
It all began in 1979 when Cowell purchased a farmhouse in Leatherhead in the U.K. to use as a wildlife rescue center. Fortunately, the project went from strength to strength, and today – more than 30 years later – its members are still working tirelessly to improve the lives of wild animals.
Indeed, Wildlife Aid releases back into the wild 70 percent of the 20,000-plus animals that its hospitals treat. The organization also has an environmental and educational mission, and Cowell has even picked up an MBE honor for his work with the charity.
However, Cowell’s animal charity activities make him a bit of a night-owl. A case in point? In spring 2016, he responded to a call at 1:00 a.m. regarding an animal that had become trapped in a drain on the grounds of a nearby children’s hospital.
It seemed that the animal must have been exploring a little too eagerly before falling down the five-foot drop. The poor creature was obviously distressed, and its screaming had woken up the hospital’s young patients. Despite the late hour, though, the dedicated Cowell drove out to the scene to see if he could help.
“We thought we’d better do our Good Samaritan bit and get over there quickly – hopefully to do a rescue-release, which would be really quite lovely,” Cowell said in a recorded video of the event. The animal was only a baby, and its mother had been seen roaming the grounds nearby, so it hadn’t been deliberately abandoned.
As it turned out, the screaming animal in the drain was a baby fox cub, and it was simply moving around in the trash and debris. In fact, it seemed to be frantically pacing around its prison, waiting for its mother to rescue it.
Seeing this, Cowell was happy to orchestrate an attempted reunion for the fox family, and without a trace of early morning gripes, he set up the tools of his trade. This included a pair of gloves, a pet carrier and – perhaps most importantly – a telescopic ladder to help him reach the frightened baby.
Having dealt with wild animals for more than three decades, Cowell handled the situation like the expert he is and when the equipment was ready, he was prepared for fox extraction. “I am going ‘down the hole,’ as they say,” he said cheerfully, descending the ladder.
With the pet carrier door open, all that remained to do was a bit of fox-wrangling, and there were precious few places in which the cub could retreat. “You shouldn’t have gone down there, should you? That was silly. That was very silly,” Cowell said, jokingly chastising the retreating baby.
Despite being a little one, however, the cub was still old enough to have honed some of its survival instincts, and it tried to every move possible to escape from the advancing pet carrier. It was, after all, trapped in a drain corner, so it took the only option it could see – scrabbling up the wall to get away from the strange object.
It didn’t look like the cub was going to be rescued without a fight, so Cowell put on his gloves to give the baby a hand. He also kept his soothing tone throughout the rescue to prevent undue stress. “I know, you’re going back to your mom,” he told the struggling animal.
“I want you to go in there – are you going to go in there for me?” he asked, as the pet carrier’s open door was offered to the fox. But the cub had other ideas. It made one last break for freedom and leapt over the carrier to the opposite side of the drain.
Never losing his composure, Cowell quickly moved the carrier in front of the fox, angling it against the wall so that its open door was the only route the fox could take. With a little more verbal persuasion (and some guiding with a gentle hand) the baby climbed into the cage, allowing its rescuer to promptly close the door.
“Saves the stress of grasping it, which is good,” Cowell explained as the door was shut on the fox. Then, after climbing the ladder with the fox in tow, the Wildlife Aid founder placed the carrier safely down on the ground.
Thankfully, the cub didn’t injure itself in the initial fall and hadn’t come away from its ordeal with anything other than a bit of a fright. The young fox looked very healthy, so Cowell was eager for the mother-baby reunion. “Now, we’ll see if your mom will come for you, eh?” he asked the cub.
But now, even with the carrier door open, the cub suddenly seemed reluctant to leave. “They don’t want to go in the cage ever, but when you want them to come out, they won’t,” Cowell explained as he encouraged the fox to leave. “Go on, go and find your mom.”
Dashing for freedom, the cub took one last glance back at Cowell – as if to thank him for the rescue – and disappeared between the buildings… in the opposite direction of its mom. But, just when it looked like there wouldn’t be a reunion, a larger fox shape was seen running into the shadows after the cub. “There goes mom,” Cowell said happily.
“She’s going to meet the baby who’s just gone around the corner, and we can go off to bed,” explained Cowell. It was a touching ending to the tale of this fox family and is just one example of the thousands of lives Wildlife Aid has saved.