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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Human–wildlife interactions are believed to be increasing worldwide, and a number of studies have analyzed the risks posed by larger carnivores. However, people can also perceive smaller species of carnivores as threatening, particularly in urban areas. Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) started to colonize British cities in the 1930s, and there is growing public concern about foxes biting people, particularly babies. These events are generally described in the press as attacks and generate intense media coverage and speculation that foxes view human infants as potential prey. Because foxes rely primarily on auditory cues for hunting, we conducted acoustic playback experiments in the gardens of 15 residential houses in northwest Bristol, United Kingdom, in December 2015 and 11 gardens from May to June 2016 to determine whether urban foxes were attracted to infant distress calls (cries). Foxes were not more likely to be attracted to infant cries or laughs than silence, although a minority of foxes cautiously approached and contacted the source of both types of infant vocalization. Their behavior appeared to be investigative rather than aggressive or predatory. Our review of the incidents reported in the British media showed that most people were bitten or scratched while sleeping, and adults were more likely to be bitten than children. The nature of the interactions and the wounds inflicted suggest that the foxes were using their mouth or forefeet to investigate an unusual object. Most incidents occurred inside people’s homes, even though it is unusual for foxes to enter houses. The data suggested that incidents where people were bitten were chance events, possibly involving a particularly bold fox. To minimize the risk to the public, more quantitative data are required on the age, social status, and health of the foxes that enter houses and those that bite people.