A response to this story in today’s (23rd September) Mercury:
There is no ‘riddle’ about the fox skull. It is simple; a fox skull that has been found in Tasmania and continues the history of evidence showing that foxes have been brought into Tasmania, in this case it’s not know whether dead or alive. Both are possibilities. It is one of 66 individual pieces of material evidence on top of the volume of anecdotal evidence that includes almost 3000 calls to the Hotline of sightings of what might be foxes and related activity (eg kills of stock).
The skull was seen at a property at Railton in July 2009 by a Fox Eradication Branch (FEB) officer visiting for other reasons. The property owner said he’d recovered it from the top of a stump in the Interlaken area between December 2008 and March 2009. He couldn’t recall the exact location and the FEB searched approximately 20ha of that property looking for further evidence without success.
It was noted that a number of tree stumps had bones on them and it is possible that a raptor or raven placed the skull and other bones on the tree stumps. Obviously, the FEB were interested in finding any other bones from that animal as well as any indication of other foxes in the area. The skull was subsequently analysed by QVMAG, the Australian Museum and individual experts. It was concluded that it was definitely a fox skull and this was subsequently confirmed by DNA analysis. (Download below) a copy of some photos of that skull compared with another fox skull and a dog skull from the QVMAG Report.
On the 17th August 2011 the manager of the Fox Eradication Branch attended the QVMAG with Mr Ivan Dean MLC and Dr David Obendorf to allow them to inspect the fox skull. Much has been made of ‘obstacles’ and delays in allowing this inspection but it’s not clear what those obstacles were as senior FEB management approached Mr Dean’s office almost immediately after being requested, a few weeks before the 17th to make the arrangements. The offer of arranging the inspection was apparently available if Mr Dean contacted the FEP.
Dr Obendorf inspected the skull but performed no analysis other than comparing it to skulls of a bettong and quoll that he’d brought with him and examining it with a magnifying glass. The FEB also provided copies of the various reports of experts who had analysed the skull and both gentlemen were briefed on the key points of the skull’s features that demonstrated it was from a fox. This was the reported “retest” of the skull; readers can judge whether its worthy of that description.
All this information is available to anyone making genuine inquiries, journalists included.