Highland foxes are vastly different from their urban counterparts and any intrusion at the den will guarantee that the cubs will be moved.
Should a shepherd or anyone else for that matter stumble upon a den a jacket or some other item of clothing with the human smell about it can be placed in the hole,this will keep the vixen either in or out for a short while, and hopefully long enough for the stalker/keeper to arrive with a terrier, failure to leave something at the hole will find the stalker/keeper arriving at a den that the vixen has vacated along with most if not all of the cubs, depending on the amount of time that has elapsed since the initial discovery.
Even leaving an article of clothing is not a 100% guarantee, I can remember in one instance when a shepherd had found a den with three entrances and left a piece of clothing at each entrance,
when the shepherd and I arrived at the den about three hours later , we were greeted by the sight of where the vixen who had been out had dug straight down into the den from above and removed the cubs, thus avoiding having to pass the hated human scent.
There have been a lot of articles written of cub-less litter sisters or daughters from an earlier litter of the vixens helping to raise cubs, and while I have no doubt that it happens it seems to be far less common in the Highlands than it is with more urban populations.
I myself have bolted two vixens from the same hole both were found to be in milk and feeding young were they related, only saw and shot one dog at the den was he father to both lots of cubs? was there another dog although I never saw him?
Sometimes a vixen that has obviously not cubbed will wreck havoc in a lambing park killing lambs
and carrying off choice bits as if she were feeding cubs, is this a case of helping a related vixen rear cubs or is it like their cousins the domestic dog where after having been in season the default setting is to be in pup, many dog owners will have seen it nest making etc the general signs of being in pup and in extreme cases a phantom pregnancy.
Often a dog fox will also attempt to rear the cubs with varying degrees of success if something happens to the vixen if they have not been weaned then it is an impossible task for him , even if they are old enough its an extremely difficult job for him to keep a family with an ever growing appetite fed
on his own.
Not all dog foxes will attempt to raise the cubs some will readily abandon them.
This brings me to the story of Peter why I called him Peter I will never know, one late April day in the early 1970s I spotted fresh earth on a hillside, investigating I found a newly dug hole the entrance of which was packed with various dead animals mainly mountain hares, voles half a lamb and several small song birds,
It was obviously the work of a fox but I had never seen anything quite like it before, on removing
the body's from the entrance and that was not easy as they were packed in tightly all the way to the end of the hole which was only a couple of feet in depth right at the end was a small space occupied by a single fox cub, cold, blind and not long for this world.
I can only assume that it was the work of a dog fox something have happened to his vixen he had managed to get one cub, possibly one that had been missed by the terriers, it looked as if
he had brought all this food which of course the cub was to small to eat, and used it to block the cub in either in his mind to keep it in the hole or keep anything from getting to it.
I sat out for three nights but no dog fox showed, had something happened to him? or did he think leaving the vast amount of food that he had, relieved him of any further responsibility for his offspring.
However that is crediting him with the power to reason and that is something I am not sure of.
I felt a pang of sympathy for this cub and decided to give him a chance feeding him every couple of hours from an eye dropper, but due to work commitments this task soon fell to my then head keepers wife.
In spite of his poor start in life Peter grew quick and strong friendly and dog like with people he knew but wary and unsure of those he did not.
However Peter had two undesirable traits one he became a master at escaping, and he also developed a liking for chicken, he would push his food through the bars of the kennel and when one of the head keepers chickens came along and pecked at it, a quick grab and it would disappear through the kennel bars never to be seen again.
Again this looked like it was a reasoned action though it may just have been chance, but when something becomes a regular occurrence one begins to wonder
By the time he was around nine months of age he had become somewhat of a liability, but all who knew him had become attached to him,so it was a case of trying to find him a home.
A safari park offered him a home in the children's section, where he settled in became very tame and lived a long life , more than twice the life span of the average wild fox.