Sam, Trinity’s resident campus fox

An emblem of the continuous integration of biodiversity on campus, and an insight into the future of species mergence into urban environments

After College published the list of successfully nominated candidates for the upcoming Provost election, it’s apparent that for the first time in the college’s 429 year history the new face of TCD will be a woman. Over the past few months, one furry and friendly lady in particular has rooted herself in the college community and created a platform for herself across social media, warming up the public to the idea of a female representative at the forefront of Trinity: Sam, the Trinity fox. 

Back in March, two young and unnourished-looking foxes caught campus security’s attention as their strolls around the college grounds became more and more frequent. After a few weeks, one of the two disappeared, leaving Sam roaming the streets of Dublin alone.

Since then she has cemented herself in the college community, with a collaborative effort between the Zoology Department, campus security, and groundskeepers to make the campus an accessible home for her, and allowing her to interact with college staff and students. Sam’s charisma has become a central part of campus chat, with many students reporting unique encounters with the cheeky vixen. 

Campus residents Aidan Desjardins and Ben O’Keeffe have noticed her progression over the past months from being  “skittish” and shy initially, to more tame and approachable as time went on. Sam has become particularly fond of resident Aodhan McEvoy, tagging along on his nightly runs on the cricket pitch, pacing alongside him, and occasionally helping herself to his belongings. She has really embedded herself in Trinity life.

Collie Ennis, of the Zoology department, explains how her comfortability in interacting with the staff and student bodies can be explained by a general trend in city foxes’ instinct to fear people being overturned. “We’re more of a curiosity to them because they don’t feel attacked or threatened…they’re such playful inquisitive animals, that’s why we get these interactions”. 

It hasn’t been all plain sailing; Sam had a spell of poor health at the beginning of summer, causing concern among staff that had grown to be quite attached to the vixen. Ennis explains: “When she got sick during the summer, we started getting worried because she got mange, which is really a death sentence for foxes.” Mange is a type of parasitic skin disease that spreads quite rapidly among urban foxes. After staff intervened with a course of antibiotics and some TLC, she bounced back to her brazen self and has continued to charm the college community and the wider public ever since. 

At the start of the month, news broke of a love story swelling on campus, as Sam found herself a partner and footage emerged of them romancing around Trinity. Ennis explains:  “The lads got wind that there was a single lady in the college, there was all sorts of drama.”  After multiple males showing interest in her, she chose a handsome, regal looking dog fox, who was later named “Prince”. It soon came to the surface that Sam was expecting, and as the gestation period for foxes is just 49-58 days, it is expected that there will be a furry clan about campus at some stage this month.

Ennis hopes that the den can be located, and a first glimpse of the pups documented. “What we would hope to do is to set up some cameras wherever they den down so that we can get a first glimpse of the pups. It’s a long shot because they can be very shy and very quiet, you might never know where they go.” There is now a network of college staff and students noting her movements, in the hope of locating where she will decide to have the pups. “With so many eyes around the college, it might be possible to spot them. I have a good lead at the moment so we’re just chasing that up.”

Then arises the question of whether Sam and her pups will be allowed to stay in their chosen location or will be relocated. “If it’s not opposing an immediate annoyance or interference with college life, I’m sure we can learn to live with them…once it’s not in the Provost’s fireplace or under the Campanile of course”. When asked about the naming process for the new campus residences, Ennis insisted on keeping his ideas under wraps for now, but ensured there are “big things coming for the naming of the pups”.

Not only has her presence around Trinity provided a source of entertainment for the college community during these unusual times, but she has also morphed into somewhat of a symbol of the prospect of the campus as a viable and vibrant space for wildlife. Ennis explains: “Sam is a very obvious and very charismatic creature and a great mascot for the wildlife… I’m looking forward to seeing what we do as a community and as a college for city centre wildlife over the next couple of years”. 

Since the wildflower meadows were planted on College Green over the summer, there has been a cascading effect of alterations in the diversity of species found on campus. The insects that have taken habitancy among the wildflowers have drawn in bats that are now situated around the Pav, and birds of prey such as sparrowhawks and kestrels have frequented the areas around campus also. It’s exciting to consider the possibility of Trinity acting as an oasis for wildlife as well as an outlet for the learning of students from Dublin and beyond. 

“Sam’s pregnancy raises questions regarding the future of urban species, like foxes, as they reproduce and integrate further into our society.”

The attention Sam has received through the media is providing an example to the general public and other colleges of how accessible conservation and restoration efforts can be, even in the most urbanised of locations. Ennis details how we can set an example on our city-centre campus. “It’s a great leading light for other campuses in the world and in the country that have access to more green spaces, further outside of urban areas….if we can do it, anyone can.”

Sam’s pregnancy raises questions regarding the future of urban species, like foxes, as they reproduce and integrate further into our society. As urban species continue to breed and evolve to be increasingly different from their rural cousins, what does this mean for the species as a whole? Prof. Nicola Marples of the Department of Zoology explains: “As animals become more adapted to urban spaces, with the light, sound, food and predator differences from the rural habitats they evolved in, I would expect the urban populations to evolve to be ever more different from their rural conspecifics, even to the point they may stop interbreeding with them”.

In the event of overcrowding where populations of urban foxes increase so that there is large territory overlap, the prospect of moving them to rural areas really isn’t feasible. “An urban fox who is diurnal, eats from bins and isn’t afraid of humans, isn’t going to be much cop in a field full of uncatchable rabbits and birds which fly away…instead I think we should consider them as part of the urban environment, and judge their management, where they need management, entirely separately from reference to their wild cousins,” Marples adds.

Sam’s success story highlights the benefits of fostering relationships between urban animals and city life. Marples ends with: “We should be glad to have something other than humans sharing the space, and make room for them as best we can.”

Niamh Tiernan

Niamh Tiernan is the deputy SciTech Editor, and a Senior Sophister student of Zoology.