Testing time for foxes

A University of Brighton experiment will test just how clever urban foxes really are.

BBC Two’s Autumnwatch, which starts Monday (Oct 23) at 8pm, will be featuring the testing which has been put together by the mammalian biologist , Dr Dawn Scott.

Dr Scott, Assistant Head of our School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, said: “We are interested in how animals have adapted to urban habitats. Urban habitats are structurally complex environments with a wide range of food sources but sometimes those food are in difficult places to get to – so an animal that can solve problems quicker may do better in urban habitats.

“Urban environments also have lots of novel objects – if foxes are fearful they may not do as well in an urban environment as a fox that can quickly habituate to new objects.

“Our question is are foxes in urban areas less fearful and have a greater ability to solve problems than their rural counterparts?

“We can test this by looking at how animals respond to a new object in their garden. How close they come and how quickly they become habituate to it.

“This is a pilot study to see if we can set up an experiment to test, neophobia (fear of new things), intelligence and cognitive ability in foxes.”

The experiment will involve encouraging foxes to pull strings to retrieve food.

Dr Scott said: “If they can choose the right string in the experiment to pull the food out this will demonstrate their ability to solve problems. I expect the foxes will get better with experience.”

For more information on Dr Scott’s research click here.

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