Of Foxes And Wolves, or, The Lady Who Threw Her Dog In A Bin
Many parliamentary debates in Norway cover ground that is familiar to other countries; climate change, the economy, pandemic responses. Yet I’m happy to say there’s one issue that is more unique to this part of the world: what to do with all these wolves. Once native to Norway, wolves, bears and wolverines were largely pushed out of the country, but started to come back into parts of Norway in the 1970s after they became protected. Despite what one of Liam Neeson’s better old-man-action films would have you believe, wolves are shy but curious creatures and of no real danger to people. However their reintroduction has generally been met with a mix of both consternation and celebration, with urban populations cheering the reintroduction of a former native and rural populations wary of the thought of sharing space with wolves.
These are of course massive generalisations. Many people living in the countryside are aware that wolves pose little challenge to the Norwegian way of life, and many people in urbn centres are aware of the anxiety that an apex predator in the backyard can engender. It’s worth noting though, that when wolf populations start to encroach on urban territory, many city dwellers seem less enamoured with wolves coming back. Personally I think there are plenty of ways that we can encourage co-existence, including careful monitoring of wolf populations and better public education regarding wolf behaviour.
But we’re not here to talk about such trifles. We’re here to talk about a dog in a bin.
There’s no better microcosm of the Norwegian wolf debate than the story of the late Bygdøy fox, Mikkel. Foxes have done well in urban environments, so they’re no stranger to Norwegian streets. Certainly not in Bygdøy, a suburb in west Oslo. But this one had made a name for itself by attacking dogs on several occasions, even killing a Pomeranian. Several dog owners warned the public that the fox was aggressive, and the rumour went around that it had rabies and needed to be put down.
Enter a group of concerned citizens who decided to hire a lawyer for the fox, content which Ylvis thankfully left on the cutting-room floor when looking for a third verse to What Does The Fox Say. They rightfully pointed out that if you live near a forest, you have to expect wild animals to pop up nearby, and find a way to co-exist with them. Considering how much Norwegians love going for a walk in the woods, complaining about foxes does feel like wanting to have your cake and eat it too.
All this led to Henny Wang picking her tiny dog Samo up upon seeing a fox and throwing him into a bin for his protection. Check out this article for the photo.
It was perhaps something of an overreaction. Picking the dog up probably would have done the job. Wang’s subsequent cry of outrage went as such.
“The fox is hunting us. I’m no coward (generous translation), but I’m not walking my dog in the forest until the fox is taken care of.”
I understand the fear. Mikkel (yes they named the fox) had already killed a dog at the time. Wanting to keep a fox out of your backyard is understandable. But walking in the woods? Wildlife that live on the urban/wild interface deal with enough threats (including dogs off the leash, I would like to emphasise) in purely urban settings without us going into their land and killing them. If you want your dog to be safe when you’re out walking, keep it on a leash. And if you let your dog outside, keep an eye on it.
As I implied earlier, Mikkel was ultimately killed by the local authorities. It’s a sad end to a story that serves as a healthy reminder of how opinions on an issue can change when that issue starts to hit closer to home. And as a microcosm of the wolf debate, it’s even more troubling. Ecologists may know that wolves are no real threat to humans, but will that knowledge ever be transferred to the wider public? Should city-dwellers have any real say regarding what rural populations have to put up with when they’ll have a fox killed immediately as opposed to making very minor lifestyle changes?
Dr. Sam Perrin is a freshwater ecologist and climate data analyst who completed his PhD at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. As a passionate Australian ecologist, if you’d told him five years ago he’d be writing an article in defense of foxes he’d be very angry. You can read more about his research and the rest of the Ecology for the Masses writers here, see more of his work at Ecology for the Masses here, or follow him on Twitter here.