The fox in Tasmania

To: "Birding-aus" <>, "ntbirds" <>
Subject: The fox in Tasmania
From: "Robert Read" <>
Date: Sun, 1 Jun 2003 15:10:46 +0930
There has been some confusion as to whether foxes are present in Tasmania,
and if so whether there is now any hope of eradication.  The failure of the
Fox Taskforce to produce any foxes has caused some comment.  Dr J. E.
Kinnear was engaged to produce an indepent review of foxes and fox
eradication in Tasmania.

Below are extracts from the Executive Summary of the report and a short
biograhical extract for Dr Kinnear.  I have put the full report on my
website at

Robert Read
Alice Springs



...Tasmania's fox-free status was breached as the result of a deliberate
introduction of several foxes into the Burnie and Launceston areas. This
claim is based on: reliable sightings of foxes; the discovery of fox
footprints and fox faeces (scats); a skin of a fox shot by a hunter; and a
fox carcase, which on examination of the stomach contents, revealed the
remains of a partly digested Tasmanian native (endemic) mouse.

Magnitude of the fox threat to Tasmania

The impact of an established fox population on Tasmania's biodiversity would
be catastrophic and irreversible. In addition, a significant economic impact
affecting tourism and agriculture would become evident. Lamb production
would decline by 2-10% - at times more. The effect on Tasmania's unique
mammals and ground-dwelling/nesting birds would be disastrous comprising of
extinctions and widespread population declines of a range of common species.

Major recommendation

First and foremost, my most important recommendation is this: the Tasmanian
and the Commonwealth Governments and their relevant agencies should
recognise the fox threat for what it is - an impending disaster comparable
in magnitude to an outbreak of a calamitous disease such as Foot and Mouth.
The key word here is magnitude in reference to damage to the economy, and
very much more so to Tasmania's biodiversity. ... the eradication of the fox
nonetheless, should be given the highest priority within the relevant
agencies in relation to staffing, funding, and the allocation of resources
needed to complete the task. Should failure be the result, anything less
would be seen, both currently and historically, as a gross example of
government irresponsibility.

The Eradication Process: a brief overview of the Tasmanian situation

My first point is to emphatically state that, given the necessary
commitment, the fox can be eradicated from Tasmania. I can make this claim
because it has been achieved on numerous occasions on the mainland - five
documented examples are described.  ... eradication is likely to be a
drawn-out process before one can claim with assurance that foxes have been
eradicated from Tasmania.


In view of the above, I recommend that the time frame for eradication be set
at three years dating from the beginning of the forthcoming financial year.
This would be subject to review as research into new methods for locating
foxes, dead or alive, may well yield significant efficiencies thus
shortening the eradication process.


Dr Kinnear, now recently retired, was employed as a Principal Research
Scientist with the WA Department of Conservation and Land Management (DCLM).
During the period 1978-1998, he carried out pioneering field experiments,
which identified the fox as major threat to medium-sized marsupials. In
addition, his research demonstrated that the fox can be controlled on small
and large areas of conservation estate (indeed, even locally eradicated) by
the use of 1080 baits. He has also collaborated with microbiologists in
developing a cost-effective bioassay for 1080. This technique, while
significantly reducing the costs of analysing 1080, has simplified the
analysis thus enabling researchers to design and rapidly assess baiting
protocols. His research, along with a DCLM colleague (Dr. J. A. Friend),
provided the stimulus that led to the implementation of WA's "Western
Shield" a successful wide-area fox control program. A recent paper (Kinnear
et al., 2002) offers new insights as to why the fox is such damaging
predator and a major threat to Tasmanian wildlife.

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