This summer, a cunning bandit stalked the streets of Zehlendorf, a village near Berlin, in search of a favorite quarry: shoes.
Local Christian Meyer tracked down the culprit in July after his “new and expensive” running shoes disappeared overnight, reports German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. The bereaved shoe owner posted about the theft on a neighborhood watch website and received a flood of responses from similarly distressed victims.
Intrigued, Meyer set out to investigate. Soon, he spotted a wily red fox trotting by with two blue flip flops in tow. Following the critter through a thicket, he discovered its colorful collection of more than 100 stolen shoes.
As Ellen Gutoskey writes for Mental Floss, the fox’s trove included an array of fashionable footwear, including Crocs, sandals, sneakers, rubber boots and one black ballet flat.
Unfortunately for Meyer, his shoes weren’t among the dozens hidden—and only slightly gnawed—by the fox. But at least three other locals have been successfully reunited with their lost shoes, according to Der Tagesspiegel.
Exactly why this fox felt compelled to build such an expansive assemblage remains unclear, but it’s certainly not alone. In nearby Foehren, a worker chanced upon a fox den littered with more than 100 shoes, presumably snagged for a group of “cubs to play with,” in 2009, reported Dave Graham for Reuters at the time. Other examples abound, notes Live Science’s Mindy Weisberger: Last year, a fox in Melbourne, Australia, stole three boots from a front porch, returning nightly to add to its stash. And in 2018, a dynamic duo of shoe bandits made off with more than 40 pairs of sandals in Kyoto, Japan.
According to the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country, foxes are attracted to objects with strong odors, from dog toys to balls, gardening gloves, worn shoes and even buried carcasses.
Berlin is home to a thriving fox population: As Katrin Koch of the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union told Deutsche Welle’s Anne-Sophie Brändlin in 2016, the animals gravitate toward the city due to its abundant food scraps, which enable them to live more like gatherers than hunters. The urban center also boasts ample green space, plenty of places to shelter (like chimneys and hollow trees) and far fewer natural predators than the surrounding countryside.
“Usually a wild fox would run for its life when confronted with a human, because they have been hunted so intensively. Not so in Berlin,” said Koch. “Berlin’s city foxes don’t have this so-called flight initiation distance.”
To protect against meddling foxes, wildlife protection groups and gardening and lifestyle blogs recommend installing fencing around gardens, feeding pets inside and covering chicken coops. Those hoping to save their shoes from would-be shoe swipers should adhere to a similar strategy: namely, keeping fancy footwear safely indoors.