No doubt this critter was feeling a little flushed when it wound up trapped inside a sewage pipe, but fortunately for it a kindly human came to its rescue. But while the rescuer was being a hero, there was movement behind him, and the figure spotted in the background was displaying an all-too-human emotion.
East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service (WRAS) is a voluntary organization based in south-east England. They respond to emergency calls from the public and other animal welfare groups, offering aid to wild animals that would otherwise have to fend for themselves.
The East Sussex WRAS is a free service to call and utilize; it stays in business through generous donations. Their rescue hotlines can receive up to 3,000 calls a year, and they can respond as advisors to a situation as well as take decisive action when needed.
This particular incident occurred on an early afternoon on May 10, 2016. The charity got a call to Cooden Beach, Bexhill after locals spotted an animal stuck in a cul-de-sac drain. The creature had apparently been seen prowling around the night before, and it must have some how got lost in all the excitement of urban exploration.
Three members of the East Sussex WRAS attended the scene: rescue manager Chris Riddington, senior rescuer Tony Neads and WRAS founder Trevor Weeks. Incidentally, in 2012 the Prince of Wales awarded Weeks with the medal of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his charity work.
Amazingly, the trapped animal turned out to be a tiny fox cub. The team tried everything they could think of to help the baby find its way through the maze of pipes, but it was obvious that it needed more practical intervention.
“We used a mobile phone to film inside the pipes, as well as drainage rods, hose, pipe and insulation for pipes to try checking the pipes and potentially push the cub to the drain entrance 2.5ft underground. We didn’t want to give up, and we knew that if the cub was left it would die,” Riddington said in a Facebook post.
“After spending 90 minutes trying to get to the cub we came to realize we had no choice but to play the waiting game. It is common for cubs to make their way back towards the entrance they came in from, so we decided to back off take a break and then try again,” Weeks added.
“On our return to Cooden Beach a couple of hours later, I laid on the ground with my arm down the hole… Suddenly I could feel the cub touching my hand, twice he reversed into my hand but not far enough for me to grab hold,” Weeks continued. While they worked, the team noticed that they had a surprising spectator.
The cub’s mother had been lurking in a nearby garden, watching the WRAS team trying to save her baby. Foxes are generally nocturnal in urban areas and seeing one in broad daylight doesn’t happen often. Strangely, she made no move to interfere with the rescue.
Baby foxes – which can also be called cubs, pups or kits – stay in their dens for the first two to three weeks of their lives, guarded by their mothers. Mommy fox, then, keeps the cubs warm, since their tiny bodies can’t keep their own temperatures stable.
Cubs become self-sufficient in around eight to ten months, but until that time their mother stays close to her babies and is very protective over the cubs. Indeed, foxes make dedicated and loving parents, and they have even been known to fight off small dogs in defense of their offspring.
As this mother vixen looked on, then, Weeks finally managed to catch the baby by his tail and carefully pulled him out of the pipe. Unfortunately, the cub was soaking wet and filthy from sewage, and the team lacked what they needed on site to help it. So they wrapped it up in a towel and took it to the WRAS headquarters for a clean.
Riddington thinks mommy fox knew WRAS had good intentions. “We were amazed that the vixen turned up whilst we were trying to find the cub and it was almost as if she knew we were trying to rescue her cub,” he said.
After a couple of hours the cub was cleaned up and ready to be released back into the wild; WRAS took it back to where they found it, hoping the mother would still be nearby. And, much to the amazement of the rescue team, mommy had waited patiently for her baby to return and appeared minutes after the team arrived.
WRAS had brought the cub back in a pet carrier, which they left open so mom could be reunited with her baby. As soon as he saw her, the fluffy little fox met mommy at the bars as she carefully sniffed her way around the carrier to make sure the kit was all right.
Within seconds, the cub was scrambling out the open door for his reunion. One precarious balancing act later, and the kit scurried off toward the bushes, herded by his dutiful momma.
It’s easy to see how the kit got trapped in the sewer pipe: he’s a bit of a pawful and even after his rescue, he’s a little explorer. Certainly, despite mommy’s best efforts, the baby headed back further into the garden and dashed off to investigate the bushes.
Mom had it covered though and patiently waited for the tiny tearaway to finish his exploration before they both ran away into the distance. The reunion was as touching to experience as it is to watch. “It was unbelievably emotional for all of us,” Riddington said. But this wasn’t the first or even second fox rescue of their week.
“This is the third technical rescue of a fox cub in three days,” Weeks said. “The last two rescuers were really not sure whether we would be successful, so for both cubs to have been returned to their families is amazing. It really makes the long hours and stress so well worth it.”