Wildlife artist Robert Fuller has had some pretty extraordinary animal-encounters, but when a patron called to say he’d spotted a Black fox outside his flat a few hours away, Fuller got excited. Black or Silver foxes are actually just melanistic versions of Red foxes, but they’re incredibly rare in Britain.
When Fuller first got the call, and subsequent visit at his North Yorkshire gallery with footage of the unusual visitor from West Yorkshire’s Robert Burns, aka Black fox Bob, back in June, he was too caught up filming a weasel family in his garden for the BBC. But by late September, after months of late-night phone calls, descriptive drawings, and lots, lots, more photos and videos, Fuller decided it was high time to document the unusual beauty himself. The results were spectacular.
‘At around 11:15pm the absolutely jet-black creature appeared on our infrared camera, allowed me to take a few photographs, and then trotted back into the darkness,’ say Fuller. ‘Though I’d seen Black fox Bob’s images for months, I think only five sightings have been confirmed in the UK in the last five years— you need very clear images to prove it. Finally getting shots myself made it fully real for me.’
Though much more abundant in North America, representing almost a tenth of the Red fox population by some accounts, the Black fox was hunted to within inches of their genetic-existence in much of Europe for their striking coat. Fur farming is banned in the United Kingdom, but each year Europe still produces around 2 million fox pelts, almost exclusively in Finland. And that’s just 52 percent of the global total.
In Britain there are thought to be only a handful of Black foxes in the wild, rarely if ever seen, but Burn’s had found a residential fox, which didn’t seem to mind living so close to humans.
‘Most other Black foxes that have been sighted were very shy, and only glimpsed,’ says Fuller. ‘This is a semi-urban fox, living on the edge of a small town in a steep ravine 20 yards or so from a dual carriageway, and near human dwellings.’
Fuller’s photos are mostly glamour shots, showing off the uncommon fox’s silvery coat, but Burns has been continuously monitoring the drama with camera traps. Fuller says the devoted fox-follower has captured over seven hours of video so far that he’s aware of, chronically two love affairs with local Red fox vixens, fights with a feral cat they’ve nicknamed ‘Scarface Claw’, and a case of mange that luckily cleared up.
Fuller says he’ll probably visit Burns again to check in later in the fall, but adds his fox-obsessed friend is unlikely to miss any major events. He also added the fox’s exact location wouldn’t be disclosed, in the interest of keeping the animal safe from hunters and disruptive fans.