Experts are deeply divided over what is responsible for the death of two kittens in a West Ewell road in the past three months, and whether foxes in the area are learning to kill family pets. Primates, dolphins, rats have all been documented learning behaviour from their peers, and a similar pattern has been observed in great tits learning to peck through milk bottle tops in some areas.
Or it may be that a single fox has developed a taste for kittens in the same way that tigers develop a taste for blood, David Moore from Ewell, a vet at the Corner Veterinary Clinic in Sutton who is documenting the attacks believes cubs could be learning to kill from their parents.
He said: "If the cubs see the parents doing this then they are definitely going to do it as well. It may be that this is an isolated pocket of foxes but I think it is behaviour that is learned from parents and will be passed on to the future generations. I think the problem is getting worse and I think people are becoming more aware of it. Cats go missing and people just haven’t been aware it was a fox that’s killed it. Foxes are getting bolder and less wary of people."
A spokesperson for The Mammal Society said that it would be very unusual if this was happening and suspects that people feeding foxes may be attracting them into gardens.
He said: "It could be an issue of cat territories overlapping with fox territories. Although foxes are adaptable this would not be likely to be a type of behaviour that we would expect they would learn and repeat on a regular basis. We would always advise people not to feed foxes and to keep out of their way especially if you have cats."
Steven Harris, professor of environmental sciences at Bristol University with over 40 years experience in urban fox research thinks the pets are much more likely to be victims of cars or a dog. He said: "Foxes often pick up cats dead and eat them, but I have never heard of one fox in one area killing cats.
He added: "Cubs don’t really learn hunting from parents as cubs do not tend to go out with their parents when foraging. If there was a problem in the area I wouldn’t feed foxes but normally feeding them is not a problem. The answer is if you have got a kitten don’t let it outside at night."
Simon Cowell, founder of Wildlife Aid Foundation in Leatherhead, is also sceptical and said he has never heard of someone seeing a fox definitively kill a cat, but admitted that is was possible.
He said: “Any animal will go for an easy source of food especially when they are feeding their young which is now. So if you have pets in the garden you have to be careful. The only reason foxes are becoming urbanised is that people feed them which we advice they shouldn’t do because the fox will lose its ability to hunt. There’s an awful lot of waste around. If there was no food in the area foxes wouldn’t be here. They are not naturally aggressive creatures. The message is to all people as much as people like to feed them it’s not fair on the fox. They are doing it for their good feeling not for the foxes benefit."
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