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Publications archive - Biodiversity

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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by the European Red Fox

Biodiversity Group Environment Australia, 1999
0 642 2546320

Factors Affecting Fox Control

Impacts on Non-target Species

Many native birds, reptiles and marsupials are more tolerant of 1080 than foxes, especially in Western Australia where a closely related toxin occurs naturally in certain native plant species. However, there is a risk in any fox poisoning campaign that some native carnivores and scavengers may be killed by ingesting baits intended for foxes. Among the native animals known to be most at risk from fox baiting are species of quoll (Dasyurus). These cat-sized marsupial carnivores are known to take fox baits under some circumstances and some State laws do not permit baiting in areas where quolls are known to be present. In Tasmania, the abundance of two species of quoll and the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) places constraints upon contingency plans to eradicate foxes should they ever be introduced to the island.

Establishing area specific baiting protocols for foxes can minimise impacts on non-target species. Saunders et al.et. al. (1995) discuss methods for minimising the risk to non-target species including: making the bait too big for smaller animals to swallow and too tough for them to tear apart; burying baits to make them inaccessible; minimising the dose of 1080 in each bait; and conducting surveys to detect animals which may be at high risk and avoiding baiting near them.

Quoll populations may also be threatened by foxes competing with them for food. It may be difficult at times to weigh the risk of non-target poisoning against the damage caused by an uncontrolled fox population. Further research is needed to assist decision making in these circumstances.

Rabbits, Dingoes and Cats

The occurrence and abundance of rabbits and dingoes have been shown to influence fox numbers (Corbett, 1995; Saunders et al.et. al. 1995). Rabbits and foxes are thought to have the same distribution on mainland Australia and rabbits are one of the preferred foods for foxes. Where rabbit numbers are high, fox populations generally thrive. When rabbit numbers drop, fox populations often decline (Williams et al.et. al. 1995). Rabbit control is therefore of critical importance to any operation aiming to achieve long-term suppression of fox numbers (Newsome, 1990).

Dingoes are common in the northern and central parts of Australia, but have been substantially controlled in the south-east and far south-west of the mainland. There is considerable evidence that where dingoes are common, foxes are excluded or their numbers are suppressed (Saunders et al.et. al. 1995) and research indicates that dingoes protect a range of native species by controlling exotic predators such as foxes and cats (Pettigrew, 1993). Dingoes forage in a manner similar to foxes and are susceptible to the same baiting methods. It is not feasible to selectively poison foxes in an area where dingoes are also present.

Recent studies investigating control of foxes suggest that cats may be excluded or their numbers suppressed where foxes are common, and reducing fox numbers may lead to increased cat numbers. Should these suggestions be confirmed it will have implications for the way in which fox control is applied and integrated with the management of cats.

Given the high level of interaction between foxes, cats and rabbits, activities identified in this plan must wherever possible be integrated with those detailed in the threat abatement plans for the cat and rabbit.

Animal Welfare Concerns

Animal welfare issues related to fox management are thoroughly discussed by Saunders et al.et. al. (1995). Currently, lethal control of foxes is based on the use of 1080 poison as the primary control method, and wildlife and pest managers strongly support its continued use. They regard it as an acceptable, humane fox control tool and the most effective method for controlling foxes. Nevertheless, it is accepted that alternatives to 1080 baiting should be explored (Carter, 1995).

Animal welfare groups generally do not accept that baiting with 1080 poison is humane. Their concern relates to the possible suffering of poisoned foxes in baiting programs. These concerns could be addressed by the inclusion of an analgesic with 1080 baits. Detailed studies of the type and concentration of the analgesic to be used are required to enable the registration of this method of control for foxes.

Published June 1999 by Environment Australia under the Natural Heritage Trust.

Commonwealth of Australia