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Beyond the Bale : December 2017
Foxes cost Australian agriculture and the environment more than $227 million a year. They pose a threat to livestock, especially lambs, and are a primary cause in the decline and extinction of many small and medium-sized native animals in Australia. They are opportunistic predators and scavengers and have few natural predators in Australia. On an average night, a red fox consumes around 400 grams of food. Over a year, this adds up to 150 kilograms of food. Considering that foxes only consume a small portion of each animal they kill, a single fox can potentially kill thousands of mammals, reptiles, birds and insects each year. Foxes are also known to spread weeds via their scats, and carry and spread parasites, bacteria and viruses that affect working and pet dogs as well as native wildlife. Foxes were originally introduced to mainland Australia in the 1850s for recreational hunting and spread rapidly. Today, they are abundant in all states and territories except Tasmania, where they are still at low density. FOX CONTROL AWI Program Manager Vertebrate Pests, Ian Evans, said lamb predation by foxes averages 2-3% per year, but can reach 30% where fox numbers are high. “Producers can increase lamb survival by taking part in coordinated, community-based fox control programs that target weak points in fox lifecycles – during breeding in late winter/spring, and when pups disperse in late summer/autumn,” Ian said. “Baiting is considered to be the most effective method currently available, but there are also other fox control methods include shooting, trapping, den fumigation, den destruction and exclusion fencing.” Ian said fox control benefits from AWI’s current commitment to wild dog control. “AWI investments in baiting, wild dog management planning, aerial baiting rate research and on-ground grants for coordinated wild dog control also help fox control.” 1080 has been the main toxin used in the baiting of foxes (and wild dogs), but an additional baiting option for reducing numbers of foxes (and wild dogs), Para-aminopropiophenone (PAPP), was made available last year to woolgrowers and other landholders across Australia. PAPP was developed with funding support from AWI and is designed to allow baiting to still be an option in places where 1080 use is restricted, or for land managers who would prefer not to use 1080. The new chemical (toxin) is manufactured and sold in baits by Animal Control Technologies Australia Pty Ltd (ACTA) under the product names FOXECUTE® for fox control and DOGABAIT® for wild dog control. LAMBING PERCENTAGES Retired woolgrower Derek Williams of Ravensthorpe in Western Australia cautions producers to be vigilant about fox predation, as well as wild dog predation, on sheep flocks. “Most stock farmers worry about predation mainly when it affects mature sheep. After fox attacks, lamb carcasses can sometimes be not evident, so predation Community-based fox control programs that target the weak points in fox lifecycles minimise the impact of fox predation on livestock production and native fauna. Sheep make up the biggest part of foxes’ diet. PHOTO: pjmalsbury. only becomes apparent when the farmer notices a difference in numbers between pregnancy-tested ewes’ lambs in uterus and the number of lambs marked. Often there is puzzlement but little action by farmers. “We rarely see foxes, because they are a night time predator. We never see them during the day, and rarely at night as they are aware we drive vehicles and their colour is a very good camouflage. We are their only predator.” Derek said he managed to cost-effectively increase lamb marking percentages by strategic baiting for foxes. “The last few years I was farming, I put out fox baits around my lambing ewes. I put them in the fence line, 100 metres apart, beneath a piece of carcass hanging from the top of the fence. “The results were an up to 30% increase in lambing percentages.” MORE INFORMATION Refer to www.pestsmart.org.au or your state DPI for further information about fox and wild dog control. Research results published this year show that sheep make up the biggest part of foxes’ diet. Scientists from Murdoch University analysed the gut contents and jaw strength of 540 foxes shot in 13 different locations in the WA Wheatbelt through a community-based feral animal control program funded by Wheatbelt NRM. Murdoch University’s Associate Professor Trish Fleming published the findings in May this year in the Journal of Zoology. “We’ve found that juvenile foxes eat as much sheep as an adult fox, with sheep making up to two thirds of their stomach contents,” she said. “We also found foxes feast on brush tail possums, reptiles, frogs, birds and invertebrates.” Associate Professor Fleming said by studying skull morphology, bite force and teeth, they found 57% of the foxes culled were less than one year old. “This is probably because they were young, naive and on the move away from their home, so more likely to be shot,” she said. “The female foxes tended to feed on rodents and invertebrates. This may suggest they stay closer to sheds and houses. “This information reinforces the need for coordinated pest animal control to boost the productivity of livestock farmers and protect native animals.” SCIENTISTS PROVE FOXES LARGELY DIET ON SHEEP 40 ON FARM