Peter Campbell

  • Running with the fox by David Macdonald
    Unwin Hyman, 224 pp, £14.95, October 1987, ISBN 0 04 440084 5

The red fox is found throughout Europe, Asia and North America. It was introduced to Australia, although Tasmania is fox-less as the brace which hunting military men took there were destroyed. Foxes live in deserts and cities as well as in the hunting shires. They are opportunists, and not loved for it. Plain hunting has a long history: fancy persecutions were invented later. In 18th-century Germany fox-tossing was fashionable: ‘foxes were persuaded to run over narrow slings of webbing of which one end was held by a gentleman, the other by a lady. The “players” tossed the fox as it walked the tightrope – a good toss being up to twenty-four feet high. Augustus the Strong of Saxony was an enthusiastic fox-tosser and is reputed to have tossed to death some 687 foxes in one session.’ But hunters were also early systematic observers. Edward, second Duke of York, in his Master of the Game noticed what David Macdonald’s research has confirmed: foxes eat worms. As it became a more respectable quarry the fox was pampered: its habitat was protected, its enemy, the farmer with chickens, bought off, and the long argument between preservers of game and chasers of foxes began. An 18th-century hound-breeder said that ‘the murder of foxes is a most absurd prodigality.’ Those who hunt animals find the fox such a satisfying quarry that if hunting with hounds does die out it is more likely to be as a result of intensive farming – wire and spring clover do not go well with jumping horses – than thanks to the efforts of hunt saboteurs. Foxes in cold climates dress too warmly for safety, but even the British trade in fox furs peaked at over fifty thousand pelts in the late Seventies,

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