Flashes of orange and white have become a common occurence in Leighton Buzzard, with several residents reporting fox sightings in recent weeks.
Intrigued families took to social media to share their pictures of the creatures, telling accounts of the mammals in the streets and gardens of Nelson Road, Churchill Road, Clarence Road, and more.
The appearances have prompted both excitement and a few concerns from the public about why the foxes are here and what to do if you see one.
So the LBO spoke to Julian Clare, manager at Wriggles Exotic Pets shop, Leighton Buzzard, who has experience in rescue, rehabilitation and release work with both mammals and reptiles.
Julian said: “Why are they here? That’s an easy question to answer - Christmas!
“In winter their natural food sources can be harder to obtain, while humans are producing large volumes of waste, which drives foxes closer to human habitation.
“People can unconsciously attract foxes; if you have apple or pear trees, the fruit will drop to the floor (foxes are omnivores) whilst garden decking is popular and makes a good shelter.
“Then there’s people leaving food outside for their pets or for hedgehogs.
“Foxes naturally migrate between the towns, cities and the countryside, depending on food availability; in the spring there are mammals breeding in the countryside, whereas in the autumn and winter, humans can provide shelter, warmth and food.”
So, what can you do if you would like to feed a fox?
Julian suggests that you check that your neighbours are happy with the animal being in the area.
If they consent, put only a small volume of cat or dog food out, as it is important that the fox does not rely on just one food source, but seeks out a balanced diet.
Foxes have a naturally fluctuating population, and one which has been on the increase, so it is not essential that you feed your neighbourhood critter.
As Julian says, foxes are both “resourceful and adaptable”, good at fending for themselves - and noted for keeping our rat population under control!
However, he understands that people may have varying opinions and encourages an objective outlook.
If you are worried about chickens, rabbits, guinea-pigs or other outdoor pets, check that their cages are properly secured and fox proof, and that you have cleared any fallen fruit from your garden.
The fox may return, but if the cage is properly secure, the animal is far more likely to spend its time and energy on an easier food source, such as bin waste, and head elsewhere.
Meanwhile, foxes and dogs/cats tend to avoid each other, while reported attacks on humans are extremely rare, something which should be put into context, as foxes are usually nervous creatures.
On the rare occassion that a fox does come into your home, Julian also has advice: “If somebody has got a fox which has entered their house then the easiest thing to do is leave as many windows and doors open as possible and invariably it will go out the same way as it came in.
“Foxes can become disorientated, so make sure you leave the door which it came in from open.
“If it can be shooed with a towel or broom, that will normally be enough.
“But these instances are rare unless a fox is old or sick, or its prey drive is very strong.”
Perhaps more pressingly, if you see a fox on your property or street, you should neither attempt to touch it nor pick it up, because as a wild animal the fox will most likely scrabble and try to defend itself in an attempt to escape - and although in general the threat to our health is minimal, foxes can also carry distemper or mange.
If you would like to photograph or admire the animal, do so from a distance, and reassure any neighbours or pet owners with Mr Clare’s advice if they are worried, as foxes have not always had an easy ride in the press or from local livestock keepers.
Julian added: “From a farmer’s perspective, they have a duty of care to their livestock and livelihood.
“However, I don’t want to demonise farmers as ‘fox killers’, as many have a great love of wildlife; for example, one farmer approached me for help when orphaned cubs were on his land.”
One of the cubs, Jeffery, now age three, still lives with Julian, because he suffered from seizures.
Since it was something that could be hereditary, Julian felt it was unwise to release Jeffery back into the wild, as Jeffery’s future offspring may also be affected.
But Julian does not encourage keeping foxes as pets.
He advises: “If you want to help foxes, the best thing you can do is take down your speed when driving.
“This not only reduces the chances of foxes being hit, but it will also save badgers, rabbits and other animals!
“If you are lucky enough to see a fox about in Leighton Buzzard, that is positive, something very, very special.”
If you find a sick or injured fox the RSPCA website states: “Do not attempt to handle or transport it. Keep a safe distance and call 0300 1234 999.”