Hull University study finds urban foxes are 'bolder but not cleverer' than country foxes

The study found that urban foxes were more likely to behave bolder than rural populations Credit: PA images

Foxes living in cities are bolder, but not cleverer, than foxes living in the country according to a new study.

A team from the University of Hull spent two years studying wild foxes in 104 locations in England and Scotland by leaving them tasks to do for rewards.

Psychologist and animal behaviourist Blake Morton, who led the research, said they found that urban foxes were more prepared to physically touch the puzzles but they did not show any greater inclination than the rural dwellers to try to get inside.

Dr Morton said: "For years, researchers have claimed that urbanisation is making wildlife bolder and smarter due to the challenges they face from 'life in the city'.

"In our study, we tested this hypothesis in wild red foxes by giving them unfamiliar puzzle feeders to see how they would react.

"We found that urban foxes were more likely to behave bolder than rural populations in terms of their willingness to physically touch the puzzles, but they were not more motivated to try to gain access to the rewards inside."

Credit: PA images

The foxes had to use simple behaviours to gain access to the food, including biting, pulling, or lifting materials with their paws and mouth.

The study, published in Animal Behaviour, found that foxes from 96 locations acknowledged the puzzles, but foxes from only 31 locations touched them and foxes from just 12 locations gained access to the food.

Dr Morton said: "Although we found a tendency for London foxes to behave bolder and exploit the puzzles, many other foxes in our study were too shy or unmotivated to exploit them despite having access for up to two weeks.

"When we left food on the ground without any puzzle, all foxes - regardless of location - willingly ate the free food."

He said: "Collectively, this suggests that, when human food sources are easily accessible, such as no lids or physical barriers, foxes may be more likely to exploit such opportunities, leading to possible conflict with people.

An urban fox with meat in its mouth Credit: PA images

Dr Morton's research aims to understand how behavioural and psychological adaptability in animals affects public attitudes towards species in an ever-changing world.

He said: "Undeniably, litter and outdoor bins can provide at least some urban foxes the opportunity for an easy meal but, for many other foxes, our study shows that their behaviour is much more nuanced; other factors besides bolder behaviour may lead some foxes to exploit such resources, which my team is currently investigating."

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