“This latter finding challenges the long-standing belief that urban foxes are notorious scavengers of other human-made food containers, such as litter and the contents of outdoor bins. Undeniably, litter and outdoor bins can provide at least some urban foxes the opportunity for an easy meal, but for many other foxes, our study shows that their behaviour is much more nuanced; other factors besides bolder behaviour may lead some foxes to exploit such resources, which my team is currently investigating.
“Although we found a tendency for London foxes to behave bolder and exploit the puzzles, many other foxes in our study were too shy or unmotivated to exploit them despite having access for up to two weeks. When we left food on the ground without any puzzle, all foxes – regardless of location – willingly ate the free food.”
Dr Morton said: “Collectively, this suggests that when human food sources are easily accessible, such as no lids or physical barriers, foxes may be more likely to exploit such opportunities, leading to possible conflict with people.
“As global urbanisation continues, it is important that people understand how to avoid conflict with urban wildlife. Indeed, foxes are a beloved and ecologically important part of many urban green spaces, and so future management needs to balance both positive and negative human-wildlife interactions within cities.”
Formally trained in zoology and psychology, Dr Morton is a university lecturer specialising in animal psychology and wildlife conservation. He publishes in world-leading journals for animal behaviour and cognition, and his work garners major global media attention, including the BBC, The Guardian, TIME, and National Geographic.
Since 2018, he has been studying the behaviour and problem-solving abilities of wild carnivores, particularly in the United Kingdom. The primary goal of his research is to understand what factors drive behavioural and psychological adaptability in animals, and how this impacts public attitudes and behaviour towards species in an ever-changing world.
Read the full study in Animal Behaviour and learn more about The British Carnivore Project.