Wednesday, 16 January 2019

CARL WRITES: 4/1/19 - St Albans, London

Read the original story here.

Anomalous big cats have been continually reported from Hertfordshire for many years, therefore I doubt the animal captured in these photographs has much to do with the overall mystery, as it is undoubtedly nothing more than a red fox Vulpes vulpes with a parasitic skin disease, possibly Sarcoptic mange. A fox identity is more readily discernible in the second photograph taken by Cameron.   Canine scabies or Sarcoptic mange is caused by a mite called Sarcoptes scabiei var. Canis. Although extremely small, these mites can cause severe itching and skin irritation that will decrease an animal’s quality of life significantly. The female mites dig into the superficial layers of the skin to lay their eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae migrate nearby and then dig deeper into the skin to mature as adults. The mites burrow into the outer layer of skin, forming tunnels into which they deposit several kinds of unwanted material such as their eggs, faeces, shed shell and digestive secretions. This process causes severe inflammation, irritation, itching, rashes and eventually hair loss. With a 21 day life cycle, the mites can replicate quickly, causing a rapid increase in numbers, more skin irritation, and hair loss over large areas.   If not treated in the early stages, mange can often be fatal, especially for wild foxes as during the final stages open sores develop leading to septicaemia. Lightly infected individuals may suffer only short-term effects (it is rarely fatal in domestic dogs), whereas heavily infected individuals suffer from severe hair loss and develop a thick crust of parasite wastage on the skin surface.   The disease is intensely irritating, and in extreme cases animals have been known to chew their own tails off trying to relieve the discomfort. At advanced stages of the disease, infected individuals are often seen wandering around during the daytime, especially in cold weather; the infected animals vainly try to maintain their body temperature seeking warm places, such as abandoned buildings.   This is what I believe we are seeing here. It is clearly the same fox in both photographs and it appears to be in a fairly advanced stage of the disease. Death may arise from a wide variety of causes, including starvation and hypothermia. It is clearly looking for shelter within peoples gardens.   Mange is a common disease in foxes and has caused population crashes around the world, including Britain and Scandinavia. In Bristol, populations declined by >95% just two years following the arrival of mange and long term data indicate that populations take at least 15-20 years to recover.   Thousands of urban foxes are infected with the disease, though it is actually more common in wild populations. Elaine Pendlebury, a senior veterinary surgeon at PDSA, said mange is widespread in urban fox populations.

“Its a real problem for foxes and can kill an animal in under four months.”  

“It’s definitely quite prevalent, especially in the winter time when foxes are out of condition.” She added.  

At the moment there are no official figures on how widespread mange is among urban foxes in Britain. Readers taking part in The Daily Telegraph Urban Fox Count have reported seeing foxes with mange countrywide, with an almost hairless fox spotted in Manchester.   As previously stated, the infected fox photographed respectively by both Sara and Cameron probably has little to do with the Hertfordshire situation as a whole, as foxes, as opposed to domestic dogs, do not typically live very long once severely infected and reports have been coming in of ‘big cats’ in and around Harts for some time. Nonetheless, it might have much to do with recent localised reports being made from more built up areas of St Albans.  

As apex predators with little, if any environmental competition, I find it extremely unlikely that genuine British big cats would bother risking entering urbanised areas looking for easy meals. This would be a far more likely activity for a scavenging omnivore such as foxes are known to do. This, and the fact that the animal photographed is clearly acting in a distressed manner; like that of a desperate fox suffering from the final debilitating effects of Sarcoptic mange, makes this identity all the more probable. Also, anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of feline anatomy can see this is not a cat of any species!     I would bet my own money that this animal is a fox displaying either Sarcoptic or Demodex mange, the former probably being the more likely.   A course of homeopathic mange treatment and a warm dry bed could still save this unfortunate fox if someone can capture it as soon as possible.   

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