Alright, well spotted, this isn’t a Holstein, so just imagine this cow is black and white, and don’t obsess about the details!

I sometimes wonder if my adoration of Jane Goodall arises from our mutual interest in observing the behaviour, not just of chimpanzees, but also of the less hairy apes and other animals.

This interest was brought home to me during my trip last month to Exeter.

While walking up the looooong hill to the University of Exeter library one day, I stopped, as I nearly always do, near Roborough Studio.

Ostensibly, I stopped to speak to the cows that were pastured to the right of the road, but actually I was attempting to catch my breath without looking pathetic as a steady stream of women pushing baby carriages, and octogenarian couples holding lively conversations whilst scaling the hill that was leaving me breathless, passed briskly by.  One of the realizations a Canadian often has while visiting Blighty is just how physically lazy we are back home.

There were perhaps a dozen beautiful black and white Holstein steers placidly chewing their cud in the paddock, and I held a cheery conversation with them regarding the pleasant sunshine we were all enjoying, and the felicity of being grass-fed and free-range in contrast to one’s less fortunate feed-lot brethren.  This was followed by discourse at a higher auditorial level designed to force the snooty cows to stop ignoring me.

Very shortly, I was surprised to see a small, pointed visage peeking furtively through the long grass at the top of the crest at the back of the pasture.  A lean brownish-red body followed into the light, and after a steady perusal of the bovines, it tiptoed over to the feeding area and began to gnaw at something on the ground.  A fox!  And one that looked as if it had had a hard winter.  It was lean to the point of scrawniness, lacking any of the romance of a rich coat or plumed tail with which we often associate the species.

A minute or two later, one of the steers noticed the intruder, and began to take forceful action, advancing on the fox with the obvious intention of running him off.  The fox was instantly aware of this aggression, and padded quickly away with the steer trotting behind in an animated pursuit, characterized by more speed than I had hitherto seen in the paddock from his kind.

Over the next five minutes, I witnessed the return of the volpone a number of times, but the steer never left its post as guardian to the flock, and in the end, the poor hungry fox departed for gentler demesnes.

What was interesting to me was that, during the steer’s aggressive actions towards the fox, and without any movement or change in physicality on my part, two of his fellows actually got up, stood opposite my position, and began eying me stolidly with the officious air of two portly Centurions.  It was as if the alarm had been sounded, and it was every cow to his post!

And I was also reminded that humans are obviously not the only creatures on this planet to exhibit hostility to others ‘not of their kind’.  The fox posed no threat to the steers:  it was too small to do them any harm, particularly since there were no young present; it didn’t eat the same kind food as they did, and in any case, there was an ample source of grass available.  And still the lead steer ran the lean little fox off the property.

It made me feel sorry for the fox.  Something I’m sure I wouldn’t have felt if the pasture had been populated by chickens.

Poor little fox.  I hope you found a tasty rodent elsewhere.