What the fox says parodies the drama

He is always more trusting: will the fox become our new householder?

On the way home late at night, he suddenly sits on the sidewalk, less than five meters away. A young fox, curious and trusting in the middle of the city. It won't stop with this one encounter, the little fox stays in the quarters, soon everyone knows him, soon he knows how to get into which cellar and where to eat something. Only the cats do not enjoy him, this house fox.

The fox could be the next animal to be domesticated close to humans. The evolutionary biologist Josef H. Reichholf considers this to be entirely possible. Because the fox has been pushing into our cities for decades, lives off waste and what people give him. "If we let the fox live longer in the big cities, one day we will have a trusting little fox whose excrement no longer smells so bad thanks to switching to more plant-based food, so that the house fox is compatible with living quarters," says Reichholf.

How the wolf came to be and became a dog

With the city fox - as with the much earlier arrival of the mouse to the house and its most important hunter, the cat - it becomes clear, according to Reichholf, “that we are dealing with a wide range of animals that are intruding into our world”. For a long time. As Reichholf does in his latest book, which has just been published, using the example of our most important animal companion: the dog.

For a long time, research has been of the opinion that humans have tamed wolves and bred their offspring to be dogs over many generations. "This idea flatters our vanity, because we humans are the active side," says Reichholf in an interview. "In reality it was probably different." Rather, the domestication of the wolf began with the emergence of Homo sapiens from Africa some 40,000 years ago. Homo sapiens and its better hunting weapons triggered a worldwide extinction of species - and an approach of some wolves to humans. Because a scarce food supply made the pack animal wolf a carrion user, of which there was the most in the vicinity of humans. To this day, packs of wild dogs can be found in the vicinity of the landfill in many countries.

According to Reichholf, this process, which was neither intended nor controlled by humans, dragged on for tens of thousands of years. While the wolves that remained in remote areas hunted large prey together and probably also increased in body size, the dog-wolves became smaller, less hierarchical in their family behavior and also less aggressive. The human hunters of the Ice Age became an ecological niche for them. "And their number and loyalty to people increased with the decreasing game populations," says Reichholf.

Cities as places of refuge: 600 foxes live in Zurich

It was not man who brought the wolf to him, but the wolf became a dog in order to be able to live better near man. If you look at that distant time and ours, surprising parallels catch your eye. Almost every day we receive news of massive species loss that spares only a few areas of the globe. A growing population of the world needs to be supplied, with modern agriculture the habitats of many animals are also disappearing in our latitudes. And global warming is an additional threat to many species.

For some of these species, cities of all places serve as places of refuge, which have become more and more popular places to live for wild animals and many species of birds. In Zurich, for example, there are 600 foxes, in the entire canton only 5500. A pack of wild boars, isolated lynxes and deer, a lot of bats, brown hares, alpine swifts, swifts and so on have also become city residents. For the city on the Limmat and most other cities, what Reichholf said in his book «Stadtnatur» in 2007 applies: «In terms of flora and fauna, the cities are apparently by no means inhospitable, but inviting."

There are several reasons for what makes cities so attractive: Here you can easily find food, if not in the vicinity of people, then on numerous natural green areas with little pesticide contamination. In the cities there is no over-fertilization that makes our fields an extremely difficult habitat for many species. And: they are usually not hunted in the city.

Wild boars line up at the traffic lights

But the animals have to be prepared for human encounters, especially now, in the Corona time. In Berlin, a beaver had to be escorted from a deserted shopping street to the nearest harbor basin. Wild boars, foxes and martens have also lined up at traffic lights in Berlin. You cannot distinguish between green and red phases, but you have learned that the cars stop regularly.

Much more dangerous than traffic obstructions, however, is the basic approach between humans and wild animals. This also increases the risk of pandemics as we are currently experiencing. The bubonic plague has already come to humans via fleas from rodents. In 2000, 1709 pathogens were known to cause infectious diseases in humans.

48 percent were so-called zoonoses, i.e. diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans. "Especially among the newly emerging infectious diseases, there is a noticeably high number of zoonoses," says epidemiologist Gertraud Schüpbach in the NZZ. And cites the “most likely reason” for this worrying development that “the human population is getting bigger and bigger and people are also penetrating into remote areas”. Pathogens could spread to a new host to which they are not adapted - and for which they are often fatal.