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TAS Country : December 2nd 2010
24 Tasmanian Country Friday, December 3, 2010 OPINION Conspiracy theories on nose CHEWS THEFAT David Byard ON THE PROWL: A tracker dog on the job on Bruny Island. Macquarie Island is a good example where rats and rabbits have been poisoned along with a few birds. However, the birds would have been doomed if the feral animals had survived.' THE IRREFUTABLE MR FOX Fox activity in Tasmania as at May 2010, as compiled by the Fox Eradication Taskforce of the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water, Parks and the Environment. Core fox habitat THERE has been overwhelming evidence for some years now of foxes being present in Tasmania. But there still seems to be an opinion among a minority that it is some sort of hoax. To me, this is simply rubbish. From 1998 until March 2010, experts in the field have found four carcasses and one skull, a blood sample has been recorded and two footprints and 56 scats have been discovered. And there have been 208 reported sightings this year. Clearly this would indicate a fox population in Tasmania. If we wait until a population of foxes becomes established then try and eradicate them it will be too late. The Fox Eradication Program has declared that eradication can only be achieved if: Animals can be removed at a faster rate than they can reproduced. Immigration of new foxes is zero. All productive animals are at risk. Social and political factors can play an overriding role in determining the priority given to the eradication program and its ultimate success. The fox eradication people have been very careful to work with landowners especially where poisoning is used. In fact, they follow strict rules that have to be ticked off before entering anybody's property, starting with written permission from the property owner. Foxes, like dogs, are very susceptible to 1080 poison. This allows a very small dose of 1080 to be used -- just 3mg. When 1080 baits are used for foxes, they are buried at a 5-10cm depth to reduce exposure to native animals. These baits are dug up and destroyed after 14-28 days, and baits are set at 250m intervals to reduce the potential of uptake by native animals. A devil would have to dig up in excess of 10 baits in a 24-hour period because of the natural tolerance all natives have to the 1080 toxin. A meat-based bait is usually used and it is less attractive to some native animals. In the past eight years of fox baiting, less than 500g of 1080 has been used. After poisoning an area, scat detector dogs are used to look for droppings. These dogs will simply stop at a fox scat to allow the handler to collect it for DNA testing. There are six dogs and three handlers working on finding fox scats. More dogs are being trained to track foxes and soon there will be another six in service, hopefully in the new year. These dogs have the ability to scent fox scats and trace them. Once the scats are retrieved, they are sent to a laboratory interstate for testing and if the test is positive, further testing is done to determine the animal's gender. So far, 15 individual foxes have been detected -- nine males and four females while officers have been unable to determine the gender of two. The four fox carcasses that have been found in Tasmania have been tested extensively. One animal's gut showed that it had been feeding on native Tasmanian species, two had not fed on native Tasmanian species and one was too badly decomposed to gather much information except to confirm that it was a fox. The FEP has undergone several key developments recently with recommendations being received by two independent reviews. Following the reviews of the recommendations and consultation with experts in the field, the FEP is progressing with stage two operations that aim to improve the chance of fox eradication. This will start with a statewide baiting program that will strategically target areas where foxes are most likely to be found. Following baiting, monitoring will be done to identify any survivors and they will be targeted by tracker dogs. All physical evidence collected so far has been from a core habitat which can be seen on the fox activity map. It seems that if the population of foxes takes off it would be an ecological disaster for some of Tasmania's species. Many people on the mainland have said that their regions are being turned into ecological deserts because of foxes. Sheep producers on the mainland who are facing these problems at lambing time tell me it is common for them to lose up to 30 per cent of their lambs. I am a little bit puzzled by people who will not allow FEP activities on their land. It is a huge problem and if foxes really get going, it will be hard to measure the economic and environmental damage that could occur. People need to understand and accept that there is always going to be a cost in anything we do. Macquarie Island is a good example where rats and rabbits have been poisoned along with a few birds. However, the birds would have been doomed if the feral animals had survived. In this case, common sense has prevailed. Perhaps those who don't believe there are foxes in Tasmania can enlighten us all with an evidence- based argument to prosecute the case instead of relying on conspiracy theories.
November 25th 2010
December 9th 2010