AVID fox-oholics on Tasmanian Times might be wondering what was in the long delayed Fox Review Expert Report.

As an individual directly invited by the Panel to submit both oral and written evidence to the Panel, I can say that in my opinion public relations on its release bear very limited correlation to the actual documents content.

On the day the report was officially released (Monday 26 June) the CEO of the Invasive Animal CRC Tony Peacock said:

“The evidence is pretty overwhelming that foxes have been in Tasmania from around about 2000”.

“And that’s using a variety of techniques, not just sightings, that’s actual bodies, DNA tests from blood and from scats. So anyone who denies there’s foxes there, you’ve got to question why the hell they’re doing it!”

A simple few lines but the Fox Expert Review reports it more objectively. Many of the concerns and logically argued points raised on this website by various correspondents are acknowledged and substantially sustained. These include the careful assessments of the inconsistencies regarding several fox incidents between 2001 and the present. The conclusions posted on Tasmanian Times regarding inadequate biosecurity, quarantine measures and need for proper investigation & handling of the evidence from fox incidents are supported.

Another correspondent on foxes, Mr Ian Rist,  is to be congratulated for his dogged persistence and sleuthing of the documented information, statement of public officials and inconsistencies in the way this whole fox issue has been portrayed to the ordinary Tasmanian.

Lack of transparency

The obfuscation, inconsistencies, failures in logic, lack of transparency and lack of accountability demonstrated in this timeline makes even this carefully written report a very damning document for the State Government. 

Even this week — in Budget estimates hearings — Minister Llewellyn was still adamantly avowing that he is convinced that foxes were intentionally and malevolently smuggled into the State on several occasions by a conspiracy of individuals.  He maintains these animals, up to 20, were released in three or four (the number changes from time to time) locations across Tasmania.

The State Opposition Parties should call on David Llewellyn again to put up the documentation and intelligence that supports his strongly held and very serious allegation.  Either this allegation is credible and testable or he is using it as a convenient deception to cover the far more embarrassing admission that foxes have been able to enter this State for decades through the totally inadequate border quarantine and biosecurity measures that have been in place.

As I said on an earlier posting, any foxes that are in Tasmania are more credibly and testably linked to our inadequate State biosecurity capability.  Since 1998 I believe there have been three documented incidents where single LIVE foxes have entered Tasmania through the failure in port quarantine & biosecurity.

For readers, interested in the Report and the submission I gave to the Panel, please contact me by email.

With great sadness I do agree with the CONCLUSION of main author of the new report, Glenn Saunders, when he says there is ‘no doubt that a small number of foxes exist in Tasmania’.

“On reviewing all of the available evidence that we could gather, and I mean all of the available evidence not just snippets of it here and there, we really couldn’t come to any other conclusion,’ Glen Saunders said on ABC radio.

What I still dispute is the EXPLANATION for how those foxes got here. Until the State Government is able to put up on this matter, I will not shut up because it goes to the heart of this very, very serious environmental threat.

Excerpts from the Fox Review:

FOXES IN TASMANIA:

A REPORT ON AN INCURSION BY AN INVASIVE SPECIES

Report released 19 June 2006

Authors: Glen Saunders, Chris Lane, Stephen Harris, Stephen and Chris Dickman.


On the Evidence

‘We could find no major case studies of introductions or even alleged introductions that had been made with the degree of malicious intent reported here [in Tasmania]. Similarly, we found no reported evidence of invasive animal introductions and positive identifications littered with so much suspicion of hoax and conspiracy as in Tasmania.’

Processing of Evidence

‘… the review team was unaware of any formal protocols being in place for the handling and processing of evidence similar to those for collection outlined above (at least during the earlier sequence of events). This may have resulted in the loss or discarding of some of the critical earlier samples, poor assessment and reporting of outcomes, lack of public record and transparency. This obviously needs to be rectified by identifying specialists in the field of hair and bone identification, DNA analyses, and stomach content analysis.’

‘Criticisms raised publicly, in written media and on internet websites, have consistently raised suspicion over the veracity of the hard evidence obtained by the Taskforce. Dr David Obendorf, for example, has maintained that “it is the overall intelligence assessment that is critical in determining the quality and therefore reliability of any evidence received or obtained.”’

‘By example, Dr Obendorf claimed that in relation to three critical incidences, Symmons Plains (‘Bosworth’ fox) (Sept 2001), Longford (July 2001) and Burnie (Oct 2003), the Taskforce did not assess evidence with sufficient rigour to confirm or deny that foxes and/or their remains could have been the result of hoaxing, falsification or fabrication. Dr Obendorf’s arguments to support his assumptions seemed well reasoned and provided the review with a quandary in assessing all the available evidence.’

‘On reviewing some of the evidence in relation to DNA samples, stomach contents and also the lack of reporting and poor documentation of investigations of same, it was possible to see how suspicions of veracity could arise and be in turn reported in the media. The review team was also informed by people convinced that foxes were in Tasmania that without doubt, some of the reports of foxes were deliberate hoaxes. Many hoaxes were believed to have been perpetuated by individuals keen to embarrass or disrupt the Taskforce and its activities.’

‘A rigorous, almost forensic approach to all aspects of Taskforces duties is required to support ongoing Government investment. There is a level of indifference in the community’s attitudes which can be corrected with a rigorous and transparent process especially when critics raise doubts over the veracity of evidence.’

‘Despite the suspicions raised, it was impossible for the review to discount all the hard evidence presented and we concluded that indeed an unknown number of foxes has been deliberately and/or accidentally introduced and that some of these and possibly their progeny and are still living in the wild in Tasmania. With this in mind, eradication of foxes from Tasmania must still be the single intent of the Taskforce.’

‘The most recent piece of evidence, a fox cub located at Lillico Beach (February 2006), was again impossible to exclude as a hoax but even worse, raises the greatest of concerns that foxes in Tasmania are breeding.’

‘Investigation of the hard evidence and reports associated with the above cases shows some deficiencies in protocols for collection and reporting. Specific guidance is required to maintain the integrity of the Taskforce and its actions in relation to the collection and treatment of evidence. These steps will reduce the questions that are continually raised by sceptics on the reliability of the evidence in future cases. Having said that, even with the most rigid procedures in place, sceptics and criticisms may still come forward due to questions and concerns raised about previous circumstances or because of oblique motivations, one being that the Taskforce is an easy target for those cynical of Government.’

On the Chronology of Events

Burnie Wharf — May 1998

‘… a fox had walked off a container ship. Six wharf employees chased the fox which eventually escaped the wharf complex and was not seen again.’

‘We understand that some actions were taken, e.g. baiting, to remove the resident urban fox population at Webb Dock and reduce the risk of further incursions via this means.’

Deliberately Imported Foxes — 1999

‘It was alleged that 11 foxes from two litters were imported into Tasmania by three persons in early October 1999.’

‘The Tasmanian Police reported the findings of its investigation and concluded that there was no substance to the information provided, other than that the persons named in it existed, and that there was no evidence to support the assertion that there were foxes in Tasmania (Glenn Atkinson, DPIWE pers. comm. 2005).’

Wynyard — February 2001

‘The PWS received two colour photographs, including the negatives, of a fox that were claimed to have been taken in the Wynyard area (February 2001).’

Failure of the individuals to cooperate ‘casts some doubt on the authenticity of the report.’

AGFEST — May 2001

‘In the set up phase of AGFEST (an annual agricultural show held near Longford) a fox was reported to have been observed leaving a shipping container which had arrived from the mainland (late April, early May 2001).’ 

‘There were also some credible and independent sightings of a fox in the same area at the time of AGFEST and immediately after it was held (Glenn Atkinson, DPIWE pers. comm. 2005).’

St Helens — July 2001

‘A report was received in July 2001 by two persons claiming they had shot a fox in the St. Helens area a month earlier.’

‘Investigations revealed that the two men had conspired in a hoax and this matter was disproved (Glenn Atkinson, DPIWE pers. comm. 2005).’

Longford — July 2001

‘An anonymous photo of two men with faces partly hidden holding a dead fox next to a well known road sign near Longford (known as the ‘Longford’ fox)  appeared on the cover of the Examiner newspaper (July 2001).’

‘No further evidence around this incident has arisen and its authenticity remains questionable (Nick Mooney, DPIWE, letter to Tasmanian Times 30/07/04 and Glenn Atkinson, DPIWE pers. comm. 2005).’

‘Ten days later (August 2001) PWS staff found a series of foot prints about two days old in a clay-pan (Woodstock Lagoon) near-by to the claimed site of the shooting [of the Longford fox].’

‘Casts were taken of some of these footprints, the best of which was forwarded to mainland experts to provide peer identification independent of one another. All identified the cast as belonging to an adult fox. This represents strong evidence of the existence of a live fox in that area at the time, and was the first confirmation of the presence of at least one fox other than just from sightings.’

Symmons Plains — September 2001

‘Eric Bosworth, a hunter from Perth (Tasmania), reported that on the night of 13 September 2001, he and a companion (also named and interviewed), shot a fox (generally reported as the ‘Bosworth’ fox) in the Symmons Plains area (about 17 kms from Longford). Mr Bosworth, although believing that he had shot something on the night in question (he shot at a strong eye shine), did not check what it was and consequently only discovered that it was a fox when he revisited the site 10 days after the event (Graham Hall, DPIWE pers. comm. 2005).’

Burnie Fox Scat — 2002

‘An alleged fox scat was collected by the Taskforce from the urban/rural fringe of Burnie in May 2002 and was subsequently confirmed through hair analysis to be from a fox. This find also appeared to support a high quality sighting report of an adult fox and cubs in the Burnie vicinity in mid January 2002 (Tim Bloomfield, DNRE pers. comm. 2005).’

‘Hair from a Common Ringtail Possum (Pseudocheirus peregrinus) was present in the scat which led further investigations to areas around Burnie where ringtail possums commonly occur. However, subsequent monitoring of these areas did not reveal further fox sign or sightings by residents or by the Fox Free Taskforce.’

Burnie dead fox by roadside — October 2003

‘On 16th October 2003, Burnie police were informed by a bicyclist that a dead fox had been found on the Bass Highway roadside near Burnie Wharf and across from the Burnie Mitsubishi dealership. The fox was picked up from the road by police but unfortunately without an in situ photograph.’

‘There is conjecture as to whether this fox was actually run over by a vehicle on the highway at Burnie and if it was actually a resident ‘Tasmanian fox’ or another recent escape from a ship, or alternatively that it had been killed elsewhere and placed at the site. One theory is that the fox had been killed on a ship entering the Burnie port or in the wharf area and dumped outside the precinct to avoid scrutiny or disruption to port activities (as occurred in 1998). It remains unknown as to how the fox came to be in Tasmania or, if killed elsewhere, who placed it on the road. Importantly, the fox was an apparently healthy adult female that had never bred. The gut contained no prey endemic to either Tasmania or mainland Australia (Nick Mooney, DPIWE pers. comm. 2005).’

Conara Fox Scat — February 2005

‘The Taskforce carried out a monitoring program in the Conara area and surrounds during February 2005 as a follow up to public reports. A total of 185 scats were sent off to the University of Canberra for analysis.  Extensive testing of the scats revealed that the DNA sequence of one sample tested was a 100% match with Vulpes vulpes.’

Lillico Beach — February 2006

‘Analysis by national experts of DNA, hair samples and a jaw bone confirmed the identity of a juvenile fox carcass found by a member of the public on a road-side near Lillico Beach at Christmas 2005 but not subsequently reported as a fox until the following February 2006 when the remains were quickly recovered. A number of people including road-workers subsequently claimed to have seen the road-kill in the intervening period.’

[Follow up FFTF inspection of the area recovered 23 scats; none were fox.]

Old Beach — May 2006

‘In May 2006, 20 poultry were killed over two nights in a hen house at Old Beach near Hobart. The attack was typical of a fox (but could also have been a native predator). After the first attack, the owner placed barbed wire over the hole used to enter the hen house. Blood collected from timber near the barbed wire was subsequently analysed by the University of Canberra and confirmed to be that of a fox. The owner reported at this investigation that he thought he saw a fox nearby in October 2005.’

On Processing of Evidence

‘Beyond general advice that suspected fox evidence should be treated as court evidence, the review team was unaware of any formal protocols being in place for the handling and processing of evidence similar to those for collection outlined above (at least during the earlier sequence of events). This may have resulted in the loss or discarding of some of the critical earlier samples, poor assessment and reporting of outcomes, lack of public record and transparency. This obviously needs to be rectified by identifying specialists in the field of hair and bone identification, DNA analyses, and stomach content analysis. In turn these specialists need to be aware of what is required from the sample, the reporting requirements, storage of samples and of the need to return all samples to Tasmania should the need arise for subsequent analyses.’

‘Criticisms raised publicly, in written media and on internet websites, have consistently raised suspicion over the veracity of the hard evidence obtained by the Taskforce. Dr David Obendorf, for example, has maintained that “it is the overall intelligence assessment that is critical in determining the quality and therefore reliability of any evidence received or obtained”.’

‘By example, Dr Obendorf claimed that in relation to three critical incidences, Symmons Plains (‘Bosworth’ fox) (Sept 2001), Longford (July 2001) and Burnie (Oct 2003), the Taskforce did not assess evidence with sufficient rigour to confirm or deny that foxes and/or their remains could have been the result of hoaxing, falsification or fabrication. Dr Obendorf’s arguments to support his assumptions seemed well reasoned and provided the review with a quandary in assessing all the available evidence. An examination of documented evidence by Dr Obendorf and others is provided in Appendix C.’

‘Differing opinions and interpretations were also expressed by others on the validity of hard evidence. For example, the evidence on the ‘Bosworth’ fox shooting incident suggested inconsistencies which cast doubt as to whether or not the fox had indeed been shot in Tasmania, whereas investigating officers associated with the reports of the introductions of foxes into Tasmania have stated that the identified individuals would be incapable of perpetrating such a hoax’.

‘On reviewing some of the evidence in relation to DNA samples, stomach contents and also the lack of reporting and poor documentation of investigations of same, it was possible to see how suspicions of veracity could arise and be in turn reported in the media. The review team was also informed by people convinced that foxes were in Tasmania that without doubt, some of the reports of foxes were deliberate hoaxes. Many hoaxes were believed to have been perpetuated by individuals keen to embarrass or disrupt the Taskforce and its activities.’

‘A rigorous, almost forensic approach to all aspects of Taskforces duties is required to support ongoing Government investment. There is a level of indifference in the community’s attitudes which can be corrected with a rigorous and transparent process especially when critics raise doubts over the veracity of evidence. Although such a process is now in place, it will take some time and perhaps education, for the public to move from indifference to acceptance of any future evidence of foxes.’

‘Despite the suspicions raised, it was impossible for the review to discount all the hard evidence presented and we concluded that indeed an unknown number of foxes has been deliberately and/or accidentally introduced and that some of these and possibly their progeny and are still living in the wild in Tasmania. With this in mind, eradication of foxes from Tasmania must still be the single intent of the Taskforce.’

‘The most recent piece of evidence, a fox cub located at Lillico Beach (February 2006), was again impossible to exclude as a hoax but even worse, raises the greatest of concerns that foxes in Tasmania are breeding.’

‘Investigation of the hard evidence and reports associated with the above cases shows some deficiencies in protocols for collection and reporting. Specific guidance is required to maintain the integrity of the Taskforce and its actions in relation to the collection and treatment of evidence. These steps will reduce the questions that are continually raised by sceptics on the reliability of the evidence in future cases. Having said that, even with the most rigid procedures in place, sceptics and criticisms may still come forward due to questions and concerns raised about previous circumstances or because of oblique motivations, one being that the Taskforce is an easy target for those cynical of Government.’

On Hoaxing and Tomfoolery

‘It may not be legislatively possible but it would be useful to consider introducing or increasing penalties associated with persons found guilty of deliberate fraud in relation to fox evidence.’

‘With the potential for such hoaxing, it is of paramount importance that each report or investigation of evidence (especially hard evidence) is clinically analysed and documented. Reports and evidence need objective assessment; everything from the integrity of the person making the report, to the feasibility of the circumstances surrounding the sighting or detection of hard evidence. It will take compelling evidence to convince the Tasmanian public that a fox or foxes may be present in Tasmania. A critical element for gaining public confidence will be a lack of negative or sceptical reporting in the media.’

‘Circumstances surrounding some individual sightings, as presented to the review, and the background of the persons making those sightings made the evidence extremely compelling. Similarly, arguments that instances of reported evidence were fabricated or incorrectly interpreted also had credibility. However, on overall balance, the hoax theories were more subjective and may have simply portrayed an unfortunate series of errors and mistakes in the process of evidence collection or a pre-disposed view of Government activities. As noted previously, Tasmania is also in the unique situation of having an almost certainly extinct native carnivore, the thylacine, being reported with regularity; this without doubt sensitises the public to the possibility of hoaxes.’ 

Summary Based on Evidence

‘A number of reported sightings and hard evidence of foxes in Tasmania since 1998 were no doubt hoaxes. These appear to have been perpetuated by individuals keen to embarrass or disrupt the Taskforce and its activities.’

‘During the process of interviews, the review team was informed that some sightings go unreported simply because the persons involved did not want to be scrutinised, accused of fabrication or publicly embarrassed given their perception of events in the media. This situation is serious and needs to be remedied.’

‘On reviewing the hard evidence it was apparent that in some of the earlier fox events there was insufficient reporting and poor documentation of investigations (not always attributable to the Taskforce). This in turn created suspicions of veracity which were reported in the media and along with hoaxes, cast doubt on some of the highly likely reports. A rigorous, almost forensic approach to all aspects of Taskforces duties is required to support ongoing Government investment and so that the community can have total confidence in the fox management effort.’

‘While we interviewed many who claimed that the evidence for presence of foxes has been the subject of continuous hoaxing and fabrication, not one person was prepared to match their conviction with the risk of doing nothing and seeing foxes become permanently established in Tasmania.’

On DNA Sampling

‘Recent advances in molecular biology have allowed the use of genetic material from faeces to be used in auditing individuals within a given area (see Kohn et al. 1999, Wilson and Delahay 2001). There are still a number of problems associated with this technique such as the collection and storage of fresh samples, inherent error rates in the PCR process and inappropriate sampling strategies. The cost of both sample collection and DNA analyses makes the technique prohibitive in more routine population assessments.’

On the use of Remote Cameras

‘Remote surveillance methods using photographic or video equipment are popularly used to examine behaviour of individual foxes around bait stations and interactions with non-target species.’

Remote cameras ‘provide irrefutable evidence which can be reviewed by others.’

Use of Dogs in Tracking Foxes

‘It would seem that the use of well trained sniffer dogs has been under-utilised. Experience from numerous island eradications of introduced pests has highlighted the advantages that such dogs offer in locating the last remaining animals.’

‘It would appear that the cost of training and providing a full time dog handler has been considered prohibitive although we were also informed that trained dogs are used to detect foxes for quarantine purposes.’

‘There are also companies on mainland Australia which trains dogs for specific purposes as was recently pursued by the Western Australian Government for detecting cane toads. Re-deployment of dogs used in quarantine work may also be a suitable compromise.’

Imports of Exotic Species, Biosecurity and Future Incursions

‘Due to above actions, the probability of detection for a fox at the quarantine barrier is high. Also worth noting is the additional effort put into detecting foxes compared to most other species (e.g. detector dogs trained on foxes and specific instructions to barrier officers to target vehicles of suspect profile) (Alex Schapp, DPIWE pers. comm. 2006).’

‘While there are many exotic species detected and seized each year, there is always a chance that foxes could be imported or become stowaways. The critical point is that foxes illegally or unintentionally imported into Tasmania will have a greater chance of being detected at the barrier than may have been the case prior to the existence of the Taskforce.’

‘Regardless of the above, the best biosecurity system in existence would not prohibit deliberate introductions due to the considerable unregulated access to Tasmania (boats/aeroplanes).’

‘A further biosecurity measure would be to re-establish links with the Port of Melbourne (Webb Dock) to emphasise the risks to Tasmania, to encourage ongoing fox control programs and thus reduce the likelihood of further accidental incursions via this source.’

David Obendorf’s full analysis of the fox threat here: David Obendorf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David Obendorf

Even this week — in Budget estimates hearings — Minister Llewellyn was still adamantly avowing that he is convinced that foxes were intentionally and malevolently smuggled into the State on several occasions by a conspiracy of individuals.  He maintains these animals,  up to 20, were released in three or four (the number changes from time to time) locations across Tasmania.

The State Opposition Parties should call on David Llewellyn again to put up the documentation and intelligence that supports his strongly held and very serious allegation.  Either this allegation is credible and testable or he is using it as a convenient deception to cover the far more embarrassing admission that foxes have been able to enter this State for decades through the totally inadequate border quarantine and biosecurity measures that have been in place.

As I said on an earlier posting, any foxes that are in Tasmania are more credibly and testably linked to our inadequate State biosecurity capability.  Since 1998 I believe there have been three documented incidents where single LIVE foxes have entered Tasmania through the failure in port quarantine and biosecurity.

Excerpts from the Fox Review

‘By example, Dr Obendorf claimed that in relation to three critical incidences, Symmons Plains (‘Bosworth’ fox) (Sept 2001), Longford (July 2001) and Burnie (Oct 2003), the Taskforce did not assess evidence with sufficient rigour to confirm or deny that foxes and/or their remains could have been the result of hoaxing, falsification or fabrication. Dr Obendorf’s arguments to support his assumptions seemed well reasoned and provided the review with a quandary in assessing all the available evidence. An examination of documented evidence by Dr Obendorf and others is provided in Appendix C.’