Smarter than the average fox? – PJ

The puzzle feeder with which we challenged bat-eared foxes.

The puzzle feeder with which we challenged bat-eared foxes.

For the last month and a half I have been running around presenting bat-eared foxes with a strange contraption. I was trying to see how quickly these wild animals learn to find food in a way they’ve never had to do before – none of these guys have ever seen a puzzle quite like this. They either had to pull a string or push a lever to get to the tasty, tasty raisins inside a heavy Perspex box. My thoughts at the start were that they would probably only solve it after three or four tries, but oh, how wrong I was! They approached the object a bit warily at first, which is expected for any creature with some sense. They investigated, sniffed, and even bit the puzzle to figure it out, and then the most amazing thing happened: many of them solved it on the first try. Was the puzzle too easy, or were the bat-eared foxes just too smart? I gained some respect for the bat-eared foxes on the night when a Cape fox (who also likes raisins), happened to pass along the puzzle. In contrast to the bat-eared foxes, the Cape fox investigated a little bit, but never came close to opening the box. Right now, I think it’s tenacity and curiosity that made the bat-eared foxes more successful, but quantifying “tenacity” and “curiosity” is a whole story on its own. I’m leaving the field for a short while to go and challenge some sanctuary foxes with this same puzzle. Perhaps I can see if this cleverness is simply innate to all bat-eared foxes, or if my population is something special. I know if I leave here for a couple of months that I will miss my cunning foxy friends.


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