Imagine walking into your backyard and encountering a strange and unusual animal. What would you do? This happened to an English family not too long ago, and when they walked into their backyard, they had their infant child with them.
This mysterious and furry black animal ended up being a rare critter that England hardly ever sees. Otherwise, the event wouldn’t have made both local and international news. Keep reading to learn what they found and how they handled it.
Alarmed And Unarmed
In Alsager, England, 45-year-old David Scott brought his infant son into the backyard. It was an autumn Saturday morning in November 2018, and the engineer decided to spend it playing with his young son.
But as they approached their trampoline, they saw a black blob. No, a shadow. No–it was moving. There was a wild animal, over two feet tall, stalking through David’s garden dangerously close to the child. David reacted how most people would: by shouting.
A Mysterious Animal Came Out Of Nowhere
“He’d gone out with the baby, and I heard him shouting that there’s a wild animal,” Anna McArdle, David’s partner, told the Independent. “He was a bit panicked by it.”
Anna, who worked as a primary school teacher, joined her partner in the yard. The animal looked like a black canine, but with a bushy tail. “I thought it was a dog at first, as it was just sitting under the table,” Anna later said.
What Could It Be?
The family had no clue what the animal could be. “It stood up, and I saw its bushy tail and thought it might be a fox,” Anna considered. But they weren’t going to take chances if it turned out to be a wolf cub.
But more importantly: would this wild animal harm their young son? As the animal approached, the couple could only fear for their child. But how the animal behaved defied their expectations.
The animal did not react how most wild small mammals would. Many wild animals would retreat as soon as they saw a human, but the animal did not move. On the contrary, it seemed comfortable around David and the child.
The animal did not eat any vegetables, despite stalking through a garden. Plus, it didn’t rummage through the garbage or dig for meals. Its actions defied all expectations for a wild animal, which baffled Anna and David.
Trying To Approach
Instead of hiding behind the bushes or trampoline, the animal approached the house. But it didn’t seem threatening; it seemed relaxed. But that wasn’t enough for the couple to trust the unknown creature.
After the couple went inside, the animal lounged around their back door. It seemed like it wanted to go inside. Meanwhile, David and Anna brainstormed what they should do about the wild animal in their backyard. As animal lovers, neither of them wanted to harm the canine-looking critter.
They Only Had So Much Time
Since the couple didn’t know who to call, Anna decided to post on a Facebook group. She snapped photos of the animal and asked the community group for help. The family was well aware that they were running out of time.
It was the weekend before November 5th, also known as Guy Fawkes Day or Bonfire Night. In the evening, fireworks would blast throughout the United Kingdom. The show would scare most animals, including the shy but seemingly friendly visitor to David and Anna’s yard.
Help Is On The Way
While many people responded to Anna’s Facebook post, one answer stood out. It was from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), and they had some surprising news for Anna.
Since 1824, the RSPCA has cared for animals around the UK. In 2017 alone, the charity investigated over 141,000 cruelty complaints and rescued 114,584 animals. As the largest animal welfare organization in the world, the RSPCA was fully equipped to tackle Anna’s situation.
…And Answers They Never Anticipated
According to the RSPCA, the animal was a silver fox. These incredibly rare foxes have melanism, the opposite of albinism, in which an animal’s fur turns black. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as black foxes,” Anna later admitted.
Although melanism is more common in cats (consider black jaguars), it is quite rare in foxes. Although one in five foxes are black in the United States, in Europe, they are far rarer due to being over-hunted.
What Are Silver Foxes?
Genetically, silver foxes are the same as orange foxes. But they are incredibly rare, especially in the United Kingdom, where they are frequently hunted for their valuable fur. Silver foxes are also bred for the same purpose.
It’s unknown how a silver fox sneaked into David and Anna’s garden. As omnivores, silver foxes will eat many small animals from squirrels to insects. The silver fox may have entered the backyard to search for its next meal.
A Potential Health Risk
Wild foxes may harbor diseases and parasites. For instance, rabies and tapeworms have spread to people through foxes in mainland Europe and North America. However, this issue has not occurred in Britain.
Toxocariasis, an infection spread through parasitic roundworms in animals, is particularly dangerous. It easily transmits to young children, such as Anna and David’s son. The couple couldn’t handle the silver fox like a domesticated dog; they had to take care for the sake of their health.
A Possible Nuisance To The Neighborhood
Along with posing a risk to David and Anna, the fox may have also bothered their neighbors. As scavengers, foxes frequently tear through neighborhood trash. They may also hunt smaller pets such as cats and dogs.
If the fox went into neighbors’ yards, he might be shooed away or harmed. It was important for David and Anna to keep the black fox in their yard. But how would they be able to catch it without getting too close?
Getting A Professional
After the RSPCA understood the situation, inspector Amanda Lovett set off to the couple’s house. Meanwhile, David and Anna had to figure out to handle the fox. It couldn’t stay in the backyard forever.
With guidance from the RSPCA, Anna and David attempted to lure the fox into their utility room. After all, it would be easier to catch in a room. Since the silver fox seemed eager to go inside anyway, they managed to lure it in.
Trapping The Fox (Safely)
By this time, the inspector Amanda had arrived. Since the animal seemed tense, Amanda spent a while calming it down. She brought a cat box and a grasper to contain the fox. Gently, she guided the fox with the grasper to put it into the cat box.
Throughout the ordeal, the fox acted more docile than most wild animals. Amanda described the fox as “quite tame.” Still, David and Amanda felt relieved to have the mysterious animal out of their yard.
By the time they caught the fox, it was almost fireworks time. Amanda drove the fox to the Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre in Nantwich, England. They “kindly stayed open later so he could be admitted,” according to Amanda.
There, the experts checked the black fox’s health. By this point, he acted so calmly that the experts suspected that he might be a pet. Still, they had no information on the fox or his current health.
Meet Shadow, The Rarity
The experts at Stapeley Grange named the fox Shadow for his black fur. The rare sight surprised the vets and handlers who examined him. “He is the first silver fox we have ever had here at Stapeley Grange, in nearly 25 years we have been open,” said Stapeley Grange’s manager, Lee Stewart.
“He is an impressive-looking animal, and it has been interesting to us all to have such a rare admission.” It’s no wonder why the fox made headlines!
How To Take Him Home
The vets determined that he was healthy, but “a little overweight.” As a result, the team believed that he was a lost or abandoned pet.
“It is likely that Shadow has been kept as a pet, and he has either escaped, in which case we need to find his owners, or he has been dumped by his owners,” Lee reported. Anna also added, “I doubt it would be able to be released into the wild.”
The Hunt For Shadow’s Owners
Pet foxes are legal in England and Wales. However, every fox deserves protection under the Animal Welfare Act of 2006. Whether Shadow was lost or abandoned would determine whether he would be returned to his owners.
However, finding the owners is easier said than done. Shadow did not wear a collar, and when they scanned for a microchip, the vets found nothing. With no other options, Stapeley Grange posted Shadow’s photos online and hoped that someone would contact them.
He Won’t Go Home, But He Won’t Be Released, Either
As of late 2019, there has been no update on Shadow’s previous owner. The rare fox was never returned home or released to the wild. Because Shadow was obviously dependent on human care, so he would not survive in the wild.
The issue presented a new problem. If Shadow couldn’t go home, where would he go? Although he was quickly becoming a favorite at Stapeley Grange, the employees couldn’t care for him forever. They had to invent another solution.
He Will Not Become A Pet
The workers at Stapeley Grange did not want to adopt Shadow as a pet. Even the RSPCA warns against caring for foxes as pets. Foxes like Shadow require specific care that the average pet owner is not fit to provide.
Not only do foxes have a strong smell, but they’re also incredibly destructive. They require raw meat and bones, and if they don’t receive enough taurine (an acid found in organs), they may go blind or suffer from seizures.
Could The Responsibility Have Been Too Much?
Unfortunately, many exotic pet owners abandon their animals because they did not prepare well enough. Dr. Ros Clubb, a scientific officer at the RSPCA, says that they have received many foxes that were abandoned after their care requirements became too much for the owners.
It is possible that Shadow could have been one of these foxes. The RSPCA works to educate pet owners on the requirements of a fox before they take the plunge and adopt.
Which Options Are Left?
Although Stapeley Grange wouldn’t give Shadow to just anyone, they would hand him over to someone. According to reports, the employees announced that they would hand Shadow over to a specialist owner.
These specialists understand how to take care of foxes properly, and they are highly experienced. Shadow would be safe from hunters who may want his valuable fur. He’ll also survive in an environment where he is sufficiently provided for.