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Thursday, September 05, 2002
Alpacas, llamas and constipation

While wandering round the lanes of Sussex a week or two ago, The Lady and I came across fields of alpacas. These lovely animals are immune to attacks by foxes. For a start they're very much bigger. It has recently been shown that, by putting an alpaca or two into a field of Australian sheep, fox attacks are eliminated. The llamas apparently chase foxes away by making a humming noise or shrieking. (More details here.) Another nail in the hunter's coffin, then. Still, perhaps they'll use llamas instead of dogs in hunting. I think I would enjoy the picture of groups of riders, following hordes of singing, overgrown sheep, chasing the wily Mr Reynard. Wouldn't you?

I was reminded of this idea by a piece on the BBC's 'Today' programme. A group of Bristol 'scientists' has concluded that the ban on hunting, introduced as a temporary measure during the foot and mouth outbreak, had no statistically measurable effect on the fox population.

According to the Beeb report, a hunt representative takes issue with the survey's methodology - one of the methods used to estimate fox populations is to study fox faeces.
We conclude that there was no significant change in fox numbers during the one-year hunting ban, and that in most regions the average faecal density had declined
the Bristol team reported in the scientific journal Nature. However, Darren Hughes of the Campaign for Hunting told BBC News Online:
It's totally at odds with what we've been seeing and what the National Farmer's Union and farmers have actually been seeing on the ground...I would be far more inclined to believe the farmers than a group of volunteers counting fox faeces.
Darren is, of course quite right: the number of fox droppings is not a particularly good guide to the number of foxes about. The 'scientific' observers would have been gravely misled if the foxes were either constipated or anal-retentive (if there is a difference).

And if the foxes had been, considerately, using doggy loos, the count would have been even more unreliable.

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