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The Streetwise Cousin Of the Cautious Country Fox

KIDSPACE

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FOXES have long been given what is known as ``bad press.'' Book after book has presented them as sly and cunning. They may look like gentlemen, but hidden behind the smooth talk and the charm lurks danger! When Walt Disney wanted a plausible but wicked character to lead Pinnochio astray, he chose a fox. When Beatrix Potter wanted to trick a rather silly white duck in a poke bonnet, she chose a fox. When the Greek writer of fables, over 2,000 years ago, wanted an animal to represent cleverness or craftiness, he, too, chose the fox. But Aesop sometimes wrote about foxes as sad victims of circumstance; he saw that even this wily creature has two sides to its nature.

Keeping ducks in our back garden, I must admit we have developed a suspicion of foxes. This may strike you as odd when I tell you that we live in a city. But the fact is that foxes live here too, and we have to watch out! City foxes, no less than their country cousins, have a taste for duck....

I happen to think that city foxes should know better. Beatrix Potter and Aesop both wrote versions of the story of ``The City Mouse and the Country Mouse,'' the point being that mice behave differently in these two quite different habitats. In the city they depend on the waste provided (usually unwittingly) by all the humans. In the country they live by different rules and feed on food provided directly by nature. The point is, of course, that everyone thinks of ``wild'' animals - even little ones - as naturally belonging in the country. If they set up in cities, it seems somehow unnatural. And yet vast numbers of people clearly think cities are the best place for people to live in ... and more and more wild animals are following suit. At least it seems like that; but maybe wild animals have always been city dwellers, or for centuries anyway, if Aesop's mousey ``Citizen of the Town'' is anything to go by. Either way, it isn't just that they stray into cities by mistake like Miss Potter's country mouse doe s. They show every sign of actually preferring cities.

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