Country diary: this fox won’t give up its prey without a fight
Returning home from an evening walk, we take a shortcut through the hollow way, a sunken track that bisects the coastal grazing and leads on to the foreshore.
The trees that top the earth banks on either side of the path arc over, their branches knitting together to create a natural tunnel. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I notice a flicker of movement ahead – a vulpine silhouette, the limp form of a rabbit hanging from its jaws.
Confident that the fox is heading for a hole in the hedgerow, we double back and hunker down by the farm gate. Sure enough, it appears from behind an ivy-swathed hawthorn, the fur along its spine glistening and spiked where it has brushed beneath the damp vegetation.
Still carrying its prey, the fox lopes across the paddock. It stops suddenly, head cocked. I wonder if it has caught our scent, but no: it has spotted another animal lurking behind the barn. At first glance I mistake it for a dog – a Siberian husky or a German shepherd – but it is another fox, wolflike in appearance due to its larger than average size and grizzled pelage. It runs out and lunges for the rabbit, its canines clamping down on a swinging limb. The smaller fox has no intention of relinquishing his quarry, despite the fact that he stands a head shorter than his assailant. The combatants square off, rearing up on their hind legs, striking out at each other with their forepaws as they play tug-of-war with the body. As the rabbit’s leg is torn from his mouth, the aggressor bares his teeth and snaps at his opponent’s scruff.
There is more to this confrontation than a simple tussle over food – the midwinter mating season is fast approaching and this is a territorial battle between two males.
The pair slowly revolve around each other, pushing shoulder to shoulder to test their strength. As the defending fox feints towards the interloper, an engine turns over and headlights sweep across the field. They both take flight, their white-tipped tails illuminated by the pallid moonlight as they slip through the shadows.