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Your interview: Tom Keightley, urban fox exterminator
5:00am Saturday 1st March 2014 in News
David Gibbons, of Saltdean: Who or what do you think gives you the right to kill wildlife at random?
Tom Keightley (TK): Would you allow or put up with cockroaches, rats, fleas or head lice? I doubt it.
People have the right to manage pests how they see fit providing it is within the law. Members of the public contact me to provide a solution to their fox problem not the other way round.
Although they are presented with options they have to date all decided upon a cull. The Government and local authorities play no part in fox control and place the onus on householders, businesses and schools to employ pest control professionals like myself. I am licensed, trained with nearly 40 years’ experience in the specialised field of fox control and I operate within the law.
David Gibbons: Do you have to obtain any sort of permit from the local authority or the police each time you go on an assignment? If you don’t then it seems that your activities are not controlled in any way, and basically you are given carte blanche to shoot at will without any restrictions being imposed. This is a dangerous precedent.
TK: The local authorities do not issue permits to shoot nor do they take any active role in the firearms licence process. I am licensed by Sussex Police to use firearms while carrying out my job as a pest controller, which is reviewed every five years. The application is a detailed process involving a home visit from the local firearms enquiry officer who checks my security, my background and suitability to possess and use firearms safely.
However where the control of urban foxes are concerned I make the decision to inform the local police of my intention to cull foxes for reasons of security and safety, which generates a CAD nmber. I am not required to obtain a permit each time I “go on an assignment”. The control and restrictions are laid down within the firearms law, the Animal Welfare Act 2006, The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, The Abandonment of Animals Act.
It is important for you to realise that there are very few professionals out there culling foxes in an urban environment. It does not follow that just because you have a firearms certificate that you are entitled to use them in an urban environment. Those of us that have done so for many years possess a unique skill set, using specialist equipment and bring about a very humane solution to an urban problem.
Andrew Cameron by email: Quite simply, you want foxes dead, I want foxes alive. Why should your wish be more important than mine? I hope that being paid to murder isn’t justification.
TK: I respect your wish to have foxes alive but you cannot expect to impose your wishes upon everyone simply because you do not like the alternative.
I do not shoot foxes or control pests for people who do not want them shot or controlled. My clients’ wish and mine is as equally important as yours.
Andrew Cree, of Seven Dials: Are all foxes considered vermin?
TK: No, they are not all vermin, in fact the urban and rural fox is not classed as vermin in law. I am intrigued with your question. One analogy might be what is considered to be a weed may simply be a plant or flower in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Anon, by email: Which are more of a nuisance in Brighton, foxes or seagulls?
TK: A fair question, the obvious answer would be, it depends which, if any, are causing problems the most. Personally I do not relish the raucous calls of seagulls and enjoy the various fox calls. From a professional point of view I receive more requests to deal with foxes than I do with seagulls.
David Hammond, of Hassocks: Foxes are farmers’ friends. By feeding on rabbits, the staple diet of rural foxes, they save British crop farmers around £7 million every year. In its lifetime, one fox is worth up to £900 in extra revenue to farmers. Why aren’t you friends with farmers too Mr Keightley?
TK: The lethal control of urban foxes has nothing at all to do with any farmer.
But in response to your point, every farmer I have ever met will tell you a different tale. One such farmer employed me to reduce the number of foxes to prevent the regular predation of lambs, losing £90 each with up to a dozen plus per night.
This takes place all over the country, with lambs, chickens, turkeys, goats and many more, making myself a very welcome sight. Predatory foxes have a hard time surviving on rabbits and rodents, which is rather a Disney outlook on our wildlife. In the real world a predator will target the weak, the injured or the vulnerable, not the fast and the healthy.
getThisCoalitionOut, via theargus.co.uk: Why do you shoot foxes – why don’t you catch them – it’s very easy to do and then release them in a different area? That would be humane. A shot in the head is not.
What if it’s a fox with young cubs waiting to be fed? Or doesn’t he care about starving them to death?
TK: Simple answer, it is the most humane method. This where my expertise, training and experience come into its own, I can employ my specialist skills to make a clean clinical kill. I am able to place the shot within the Medulla Oblongata (brain stem) this is important and relevant because it ensures a humane result. The fox is not aware or disturbed by my presence, therefore I achieve that clean kill necessary to prevent suffering.
To “catch them and release them in a different area” as you suggest is not at all humane. The catch itself is very stressful, they are then manhandled into a vehicle and driven some distance, all very stressful. Then they are released in another’s territory to fend for themselves.
If it is in a different town they will have to deal with the resident dominant fox and either be killed or chased off, and on it goes. If, as it often happens, the captured fox is released into the countryside, it is ill equipped to feed itself as much of its experience is learned behaviour. When foxes are released into the countryside I am called out to witness up to a dozen in one field, they stand still while I shoot them all. To release a captured fox is illegal, and subject to the Animal Welfare Act 2006, Abandonment of Animals Act and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
In my opinion the word “humane” is often misused, it is not humane to allow extended periods of suffering through capture and release. It is an offence to deliberately prolong the suffering of an animal, which is exactly what you would be guilty of when you chose this inhumane method.
As far as vixens with cubs are concerned, I always make sure I complete a cull before any birthing takes place, failing that I ask my clients to wait a few weeks until the cubs are above ground and following the vixen.
This allows me to cull the cubs prior to the vixen and dog fox, therefore preventing starving cubs.
Anon, via email: Do foxes ever really attack cats and kill cats or children?
TK: Without doubt, I have been contacted by many clients that have witnessed their cat taken and killed by urban foxes. Some larger, more aggressive, cats are able to defend themselves but many are not. This taste for cats is a learned behaviour; the cubs are fed on cats and learn to predate them. Remember that many urban foxes are very large, many weighing in excess of 25 pounds.
As for attacking children, there are plenty of documented incidents reported in the news, The Couparis twins, Deni Dolin and many more. This again is a learned behaviour. The fox will be drawn to the smell of nappies, milk and more importantly the high pitched sounds of babies, which are small, weak and vulnerable. They enter our home more often than you think or believe, venturing ever deeper into our homes one visit at a time. The number and frequency of these attacks are on the increase; indeed I predicted further attacks several years ago.
Gribbet, via theargus.co.uk: If it’s a choice between foxes or rats living off the city’s discarded food scraps, wouldn’t it be better to have foxes, they’ve never caused me or anyone I know of any harm?
TK: We do not have a choice, the discarded fast food appeals to both species. There are too many of both, all we can do is control the numbers.
Foxes may not have caused you a problem, but others have not been so lucky.
Ouseler, via theargus.co.uk: I trust he’s using a rifle of at least .22 LR calibre for humane shots, so the fact he shoots in urban areas with a Section one firearm intrigues me.
Does he really shoot foxes in back gardens or does he suffer from Ramboitis when speaking to newspaper reporters?
TK: In an urban environment the choice of firearm is limited to the smaller calibres. The .22 rimfire rifle fits the bill, I complement this by using a hollow point subsonic ammunition. The rapid expansion is not only desirable in terms of a humane shot, it is required by law.
Genevieve Trent, of Hove: What do your grandchildren think of what you do?
TK: My grandchildren have a balanced view of wildlife.
Roger Musselle, of Roger’s Wildlife Rescue: Our larger mammals and foxes in particular are generally speaking loved by the public and we like to see them in our gardens. After all, they do help with rodent control.
Do you have any qualms about killing our foxes when at this time of the year you could be leaving tiny cubs underground to suffer a slow lingering death by starvation? Do you consider this humane destruction?
TK: I also like to see them, but not in large numbers. Enough so you marvel at them, leaving you wondering when you will see the next one. But not as often so they become a nuisance, causing damage, attacking cats and children.
As I said, I always attempt to complete my cull prior to birthing, failing that request my clients wait until the cubs are above ground and following the vixen to cull them all. This is the most humane method.
Chris Garrod, of Ripe, near Lewes: Foxhounds would rarely catch a fit fox.
Hunting with hounds predominantly removed the old, genetically weak and diseased foxes who turned to raiding human habitations for food as they were unable to fend for themselves in the wild. This centuries-old system maintained a healthy rural population, able to co-exist with humans. Are you able to ensure that you only cull these unfit creatures, or is your population reduction across the board thus weakening the gene pool by interfering with the survival of the fittest?
TK: It is a monumental mistake to draw any comparisons between the rural fox and urban fox, their habits and method of control. However I understand the point you are attempting to make.
Weak and injured urban foxes have only to wait until the next feed time to regain strength.
When controlling foxes within an urban environment the aim is to reduce numbers in a localised area (the garden). The process includes observation by my clients, where they identify the number of foxes causing the problems. This is the number I endeavour to remove. Although the average is six individuals this can dramatically increase in one night and I might cull as many as 15, whatever their condition or age. Remember this about reducing numbers: allowing urban foxes to breed unabated will result in a weaker gene pool, through over population and disease. Reducing numbers can only strengthen and improve the gene pool.
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