Berlin - You might have noticed that foxes are everywhere in the city right now. In autumn, it's common to spot them not only in Berlin's parks, but also on busy shopping streets. At this time of year they might even approach people without showing much timidity. There's a reason for this.
The city's official wildlife expert Derk Ehlert explains: "They're the so-called October foxes, which were born in spring and were driven out of their dens by their parents a few days ago. The sexually mature animals must now find their own territory."
The youngsters are probably hungry. Gone are the days when mum, dad or maybe an auntie brought dinner. And so the "October foxes" often beg for food from humans.
"You should refrain from feeding the animals," says Ehlert - not only because it's illegal under state hunting laws and could result in a fine of up to €5000. Feeding the foxes could make the animals too tame and lead to more aggressive begging, says Ehlert. This could potentially cause young foxes to bite humans.
Even if this should happen, there's no reason to fear rabies: "This deadly disease has not been detected in foxes for over 30 years."
Once a hunter, now a gatherer
Feeding the foxes makes no sense either, because there's plenty of food for the unfussy omnivores in town.
"The hunter who came from the forest has become a gatherer in the city," Ehlert says. Foxes eat the food waste Berliners leave on the street, in parks or in bins. Occasionally, they will kill a rat or mouse. "They also pounce on cat food left outside on patios. The fox has adapted quite well to city life."
An estimated 2000 foxes live within the city limits. "Over the past 20 years, about two thirds of them moved towards central areas," says Ehlert. "They appear frequently in Reinickendorf, where a fox adorns the district's coat-of-arms, but they are found just as often in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Marzahn or Mitte."
The territory of Berlin's foxes is smaller than that of their forest-dwelling cohorts: one or two animals per quarter of a square kilometre. After all, foxes in Berlin don't have to go far to find something to eat.
The population of the animals is quite stable. This is partly due to the fact that foxes aren't hunted here. Some are killed when crossing roads, but they generally do well in busy city traffic, says Ehlert.
Their greatest threat is diseases such as distemper or mange, which they often contract because of the close living conditions in the city.
"About a third of the October foxes do not survive their first winter," says Ehlert, and their average lifespan is only two years.