Wildlifw in Athenry – The Urban Fox
In this edition I will attempt to introduce you to our twentieth century urban fox. Urban foxes are now well established in many of our towns and cities. In recent years, families of foxes have been reared at the site of the old turntable, beside the railway line in Athenry, and also in the covert at the entrance to Monaghan’s house near the Pound. The fox’s appearance in our urban areas has been a relatively recent phenomenon. It could be said that they have developed a taste for fast food as the diet of these urban dwellers consists mainly of scavenged food from rubbish heaps, garbage cans. It also includes small birds, rats, mice, frogs, berries and the odd cat, perhaps, for the want of a greater challenge. Our rural foxes have, of course, the choice of a better menu, with the odd lamb, chicken, duck or goose on offer.
Some years ago, fox pelts were fetching as much as twenty two pounds each, properly skinned and cured. Ten or twelve pounds could be got for the carcass of a fox without the trouble of skinning or curing it. This led to the wholesale slaughter of foxes by various methods, such as shooting, snaring, poisoning or trapping. During that period, I knew of one person in south Galway, who ‘travelled more than any ‘village schoolmaster of long ago’ in his search for foxes. The reason was that, at the time ladies fox fur coats were fetching as much as four thousand pounds each on the French market. All this slaughtering of foxes helped to increase the number of game birds, as foxes are notorious killers of pheasants and other game birds, which should be added to the menu mentioned earlier, became more plentiful than ever. Only the fittest and strongest survived and a survey showed that they also produced bigger and healthier litters. Such is nature’s way.
One of our urban foxes in Athenry had the audacity to sleep regularly in one of the gardens, at the rear of a house in Old Church Street. On a number of occasions I saw him being chased by a terrier in the direction of the railway embankment. If his pelt was worth anything like it would have been years ago, I have no doubt that he would have been better off to return to a rural way of life, where while still in dangerous territory, he could keep his options more open.
Yours in nature,
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Written by Tony Kilcommons
Published here 25 Oct 2022 and originally published 1997