I cradle a 20 day-old baby fox in my hands. The little grey thing wobbles around for a bit, emits a few small squeaks and then settles down to nap. Charlie Jackson Martin, a University of Sydney student and founder of Sydney Fox Rescue, has saved this creature from almost certain death and intends to vaccinate, de-sex and find a family to adopt it as a permanent wildlife rescue. I look down at this helpless, harmless thing and reassess my perspective.
Part of me thinks we should show no mercy to invasive species. Foxes are one of the most destructive introduced animals in Australia. They are deadly predators and have been responsible for the decline of a number of native species including the Western Quoll and the Greater Bilby. Australia is practically at war with foxes. Conservation authorities and governments advocate trapping, poisoning, gassing and shooting of as many of these animals as we can find. Why would we want to save them?
But with this living creature sleeping in my hands, my moral instincts resist the idea that death is the only solution. A little voice (my conscience perhaps?) speaks up and says we should give this kit a chance if we can. It goes against our nature as human beings to slaughter any animal if it could live a contented life in captivity (and carers are willing and available). The analogy most commonly used is that of puppies in pounds – why put so many down when homes might be found? Wild foxes may be a danger to native animals but when kept responsibly in captivity they can do little harm.
Foxes may not be “pets” per say but, according to Charlie, they can make very happy members of a household. Charlie grew up with foxes – his grandparents kept one and Charlie got his first fox, Robin, when he was just a kid. Many vet clinics and wildlife groups have employees who have been caring for deserted kits or injured foxes brought in by the public for years. Even a few farmers (who have greater reason to fear foxes than most) have foxes in the family. According to Charlie, foxes are like a cross between a dog and a cat – they are fiercely independent and highly intelligent but you can snuggle up with them on the couch and take them for walks in the park.
Charlie’s charity, Sydney Fox Rescue, is painfully aware of how controversial his scheme is and takes every precaution to assess the people taking over responsibility for each fox. He requires character references and home checks as well as the installation of an escape-proof outdoor enclosure in which to keep the fox before an adoption goes ahead. Adoptees have to volunteer for 4-6 hours with his charity to familiarise themselves with fox-habits and fox-care. Every three years Sydney Fox Rescue checks up on their foxes and they will also take foxes back if people change their minds. Meeting with the head of this project, I could not help but admire the thought and time this busy SRC representative and part-time medical research student had devoted to the welfare of foxes. Charlie’s enterprise targets our moral confusion over pest species by challenging our hypocritical tendency to consider some species worthy of moral consideration while being abjectly cruel to others. This sort of wake-up call can only be a good thing.
If you would like to support Sydney Fox Rescue, you can go along to their fundraising event, “A Very Foxy Cabaret”, at 6.30pm 13th September at the Red Rattler in Marrickville. For more information – http://sydneyfoxrescuecabaret.eventbrite.com.au/