Saturday, 3 September 2016

'Foxed Unearthed' Interview with author Lucy Jones

‘Foxed Unearthed’ published in 2016 provides a richly balanced account of an animal that is deeply embedded in the human psyche. Whether it is in the tabloid press or in nursery rhymes, attitudes to it vary from deep affection to fear suspicion. In Britain, it receives media attention not received by any other animal. Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne discusses the background to a timely book with Lucy Jones author of ‘Foxes Unearthed: A Story of Love and Loathing' in Modern Britain' published by Elliot & Thompson in London.

How did the idea of a book come about and how long did you work on the book?
I was approached by Jennie Condell, publisher of Elliott & Thompson, who had seen my wildlife blog Wildlife Daily and was looking for someone to write a book about foxes. Already fascinated by the fox and how it had been perceived over the centuries and in the modern day, I was immediately interested, pitched how I would go about it and got to work! It took around 8 months to research, write and edit.

How did you go about finding a publisher?
I was very lucky that they found me!

The book covers a huge number of topics from history to countryside management. Many of the issues are complex, political and emotionally charged. Were there moments when you felt what you had taken on was too big a task to fit into one book? How did you manage to keep going in those dark moments?
I relished it. It was a pleasure to do lots of reading and learning around the subject, particularly in ecology, conservation and the history of how animals have been treated in Britain (often quite galling, to be honest) and the culture of hunting. It was often a challenge to present the closest approximation to the truth around various issues, such as the evidence that the fox suffers in a hunt, or the conflicting studies and arguments around whether culling foxes actually makes a difference to their numbers because they self-regulate their population, but I aimed to approach the subject journalistically and present all sides to allow the reader to make up their own mind. I recall a conversation with the anthropologist Garry Marvin when I was feeling a little frustrated about trying to find ‘the truth’. He said to me, ‘there is no truth, just different interpretations of it.’

What makes the book interesting is that you went out into the field to meet scientists, conservationists, hunt saboteurs and a raft of people whose lives have been touched by foxes. What was the highlight of your time out in the field?
I love interviewing scientists and meeting Dawn Scott was a pleasure. They are always so generous with their time and passionate about their research. After years of interviewing bands who don’t particularly like opening up, it’s a real joy! In terms of field trips, I found the day I spent with hunt saboteurs fascinating. It’s a really interesting sub-culture that’s been going since the mid-60s and it was unlike anything I’d experienced before. I enjoyed finding out why they do what they do even when it can be dangerous.

It must be incredibly satisfying to finally have the book out in print and well received by a number of prominent wildlife commentators. If you reflect on how the book has impacted you, do you feel it has changed your outlook on how you see people or conservation issues.
It really is; it’s been amazing. I suppose it has given me confidence that the written word can make a difference, however grand that might sound. Many of my messages from readers of the book have expressed how it changed their minds about foxes. They often say, ‘I love foxes now’, or something along those lines. I think it also taught me that it’s always worth acknowledging how differently some people feel to others, and looking at what might be behind that, asking questions and listening. For example, someone who hates foxes in urban areas might seem a bit narrow-minded at first, but there may be a reason behind it: they’ve read loads of scaremongering stories in particular newspapers that paint the fox as a psychotic villain or they’ve heard myths and rumours for years that just aren’t true. I think ecological literacy is so important in changing attitudes towards wildlife and our landscape and the press have a responsibility for that.

If you had room for another chapter, what would it be?
I’d have liked to look at how foxes live and are treated in other areas of the world. I’d love to explore and compare the habits and behaviours of the red fox with, for example, the arctic fox and the fennec fox.

For someone whose career began in writing for a music magazine, this book is a remarkable change in direction. How did this come about and what advice would you offer any aspiring nature writers as a lesson from your own transformation?
I started my career at The Daily Telegraph, where I worked for four years, following reporting at a local newspaper, so I had a pretty good journalistic training before moving to NME and specialising in music. Over the last few years, I started to realise what a dire state the planet is in and wanted to write more about environment, nature, science and wildlife. I set up a blog - Wildlife Daily - and left NME to write freelance for publications and websites like BBC Earth, the Guardian, TIME, Newsweek and others. I think setting up a blog is a really good way of finding your voice and working out what you want to write about. Also it gives you the opportunity to build a community of people who care about the same thing. Keep notes! It can be a good idea to make notes about the things you see on walks and nature trips and the words you like. I wish I’d kept more notes over the years and I’m more diligent about it these days. It’s a bit obvious but reads loads of nature writers, too, to work out what you like. I’ve got a lot of inspiration over the last couple of years from people like Rebecca Solnit, the late Nan Shepherd and Barry Lopez.

Buy the book
Amazon UK

The images below are not from the book. They illustrate foxes in London. Top three images (c) Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne and show a fox that had got through the protective mesh at the London Wetland Centre. The bottom four images are (c) Shehan Silva and show a family of foxes that was raised in a back yard in a suburb of London.

Mammals of Sri Lanka - Special Price

The Mammals of Sri Lanka
Asoka Yapa (author) and Gamini Ratnavira (artist). Published in 2013 by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka. 1,012 pages.

Special Offer: Reduced to 1/3 original price
Priced initially at Rupees 7,500 remaining stocks of the book are now available at a special stock disposal price of Rupees 2,500 from the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL), Dept. of Zoology, University of Colombo, Kumaratunga Munidasa Mawatha, Colombo 3 (Tel: 250 1332).
The Mammals of Sri Lanka' by Asoka Yapa (author) and Gamini Ratnavira (artist) (published by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka, University of Colombo, 2013) is the first comprehensive book on Sri Lanka's mammal fauna since 1935. A foreword by zoological icon Rohan Pethiyagoda, an introduction to the island's mammals, a survey of Sri Lankan zoogeography, and a review of primary literary sources precede the treatment of mammals. The book introduces the taxonomic orders of mammals in Sri Lanka in their evolutionary, taxonomic, and ecological contexts. Family descriptions follow, after which are species by species accounts that cover morphology, behaviour, ecology, diet, reproduction, distribution within Sri Lanka, and conservation status and concerns. Where there are significant differences among subspecies within the island, these are described and illustrated. For the first time, there are distribution maps for all the terrestrial mammals, drawings of dive sequences for the large whales, and representations of footprints and scat of selected species.

The 1012-page, 20.5 x 28 cm book is richly illustrated in full colour with plates by internationally famed wildlife artist Ratnavira and by the stunning photographs of Sri Lanka's leading wildlife photographers. Most of the illustrations have never been published before and include species that have only recently been discovered. A comprehensive bibliography containing over 500 references will assist those wanting to find out more about Sri Lanka's rich mammal fauna. Written with the wildlife enthusiast in mind, the book will be also useful to students and professional zoologists. The volume was printed and bound in Sri Lanka using sustainably-sourced papers and inks and the authors and illustrators have donated all proceeds to promote wildlife conservation in Sri Lanka.

Priced initially at 7500/- rupees per volume, the book is now available from FOGSL, Dept. of Zoology, University of Colombo, Kumaratunga Munidasa Mawatha, Colombo 3 (Tel.: 250-1332) for the cost price of 2,500 rupees, an astonishing bargain.


''The Mammals of Sri Lanka' is not merely the work of reference its hundreds of pages would seem to make it. It can be read with pleasure from cover to cover and, despite its heft, will prove invaluable also in the field'.
Rohan Pethiyagoda in Foreword to the book.

'(A) sumptuously illustrated opus... exquisitely written...the meticulous attention to detail by the first author has created an encyclopaedic volume on the current knowledge of mammals in Sri Lanka'
Dr. Burton Lim in book review in Journal of Mammalogy (USA).

 '(The book is) lovely, very lovely'
Prof. Hal Whitehead, Professor, Cetacean Science, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

 'An absolutely impressive book. The pictures and painting are superb...the scientific content... is very strong. The sections on bats, shrews and whales, relatively neglected groups in most books on mammals, are absolutely excellent. I love your style: a strong concern for accuracy of facts interspersed with occasional and always relevant personal comments. I particularly enjoyed your anecdote on wild boar curry on page 614' .
Emeritus Professor Cyrille Barrette, Laval University, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

'...a mammoth effort'
Malaka Rodrigo, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka.




Foreword by Rohan Pethiyagoda   11

Encomiums   17

Sri Lanka's Mammals: An Introduction   23

Mammals in Sri Lanka: Primary Sources   35

Sri Lanka: Geology and Biogeography   43

Author's Note and Acknowledgements   51


Sri Lanka's Terrestrial and Marine Mammals   63

   Order Sirenia: Dugongs and Manatees   65

   Order Proboscidea: Elephants   79

   Order Primates: Lorises, Monkeys, Lemurs, and Relatives   121

   Order Rodentia: Rats, Squirrels, Mice, Porcupines, and Relatives   189

   Order Lagomorpha: Hares and Pikas   293

   Order Eulipotyphla: Shrews, Hedgehogs, and Moles   303

   Order Chiroptera: Bats   337

   Order Carnivora: Cats, Civets, Mongooses, Dogs, Bears, Weasels, and Pinnipeds   459

   Order Pholidota: Pangolins  585

   Super-Order Cetartiodactyla: Even-Toed Ungulates and Whales   599

   Order Artiodactyla: Deer, Chevrotains, Antelopes, Pigs, Giraffes, True Ruminants, and Hippopotamuses   605

   Order Cetacea: Whales and Dolphins   685


Introduced Mammals   857

Bibliography   876


Appendix I: Glossary   916

Appendix II: The Cetacean-Watching Industry   930

Appendix III: Dive Sequences of the Larger Whales   936

Appendix IV: Spoor and Scat of Selected Genera of Sri Lankan Mammals   944

Appendix V: Dental Formulae of Selected Genera of Sri Lankan Mammals   954


Addenda   960

Index of Common Names   972

Index of Scientific Names   976

Sri Lanka's Mammals Names: Scientific, English, and Sinhala Equivalents   980

Sri Lanka's Mammals Names: Scientific, English, and Tamil Equivalents   988

Checklist of Sri Lankan Mammals   996