ABC - RN Breakfast - 26 July, 2011 7.54 am
Criticism of Tasmania’s fox baiting program

Interviewer, Phil Clarke: Well from one pest to another. There’s concern in Tasmania that a poison baiting program aimed at killing foxes is being carried out too close to residential areas. Wildlife experts and local residents fear that native animals and domestic pets may fall victim to the baits. But they also say that the move by the State’s three million dollar a year fox eradication is overkill. Dr David Obendorf is a Tasmanian veterinary pathologist and he joins us from his home in Hobart. David, welcome to radio national’s Breakfast.

David Obendorf: Good morning Phil

Phil Clarke: This baiting program has been going on across Tasmania for some time. How many has it eradicated so far?

David Obendorf: Well up to date, nothing… no one… no foxes have been trapped, shot, spot-lit… ahh… poisoned by the program.

Phil Clarke: At all?

David Obendorf: Ahh… not that they have been able to come clear and able to demonstrate to the general public.

Phil Clarke: So, since 2002 - zero, nil, nothing… not a single fox.

David Obendorf: Correct.

Phil Clarke: Are there any foxes in Tasmania? [1.04]

David Obendorf: Well this is… this is the debatable point. And this is where the public confidence become crucial because ahhm… ahh… having a virtual war on foxes… ahh rather like a ‘false war’ because umm… the difficulty has been the reliability of the original threat assessment back in 2001 and subsequently the credibility of the evidence produced and the claims of foxes sighting across the length and breath of Tasmania. It’s somewhat ahh… analogous to ahh… the sort of thylacine sighting reports that Tasmania (Umm) has been fairly notorious for as well. 

Phil Clarke: Now the Stat is nervous about it (Yes) and wildlife authorities are nervous about it for obvious reasons I suspect because Tasmania has been ‘fox-free’ (Yes); the fox is a devastating predator of… of native wildlife if foxes were to get a foothold. It would mean a death knell, wouldn’t it, for many of Tasmania’s small native wildlife?

David Obendorf: Well that’s… that’s been the assumption all along. That Tasmania is fox-free and that the assumption is that ahh… like the mainland ahh… the consequences on small to medium-sized ahh native animals like bandicoots, quolls, bettong, ahh…potoroos and small wallabies would ahh… all be at threat from foxes. So, I guess ‘the precautionary principle’ has been the basis for them developing the program and selling it to Canberra, under the Environmental Protection Act to ahh…, really eradicate a pest that would have severe consequences.

Phil Clarke: OK. It’s a lot of money being spent (Umm) and so far, as we’ve said, since 19… since 2002 - that’s nine years - and not a single fox has been found. So…, so how did it all start? How do we know there are any foxes, or where did it all begin? 

David Obendorf: Well this is,… this is the difficulty. That original threat assessment was based up a confidential briefing that the then Minister for the Environment and Police - he held both portfolios - was given ahhm…based on the sensational allegation that ahhm… a conspiracy of hunters were returning from ahh… Victoria with young cubs that were either being whelped on to ahh… dog bitches - mothers -  or brought in covertly, reared in captivity and then released at , at least four different locations across Tasmania over a period of three or four years.

Phil Clarke: For…, for what purpose?

David Obendorf: For the purpose of potentially hunting them for recreational use. Now ahh…, that’s a very sensational allegation and the Minister, rightly put on a fairly comprehensive police inquiry team to investigate that allegation, which was referred to him by his own Department of Primary industry and the Environment. And they came up with… ahh… nothing. In fact they… they recognised that the quality of the reference was at the very lowest level of authenticity and reliability.

Phil Clarke: Umm… yes, alright. To use a Tasmanian expression it may have been a ‘cock & bull’ story?

David Obendorf: Ahh… you could put it that way.

Phil Clarke: Yeah.

David Obendorf: But of course the difficult in all this is that ‘the fear of foxes’ becomes the determinator of public policy rather than an evidence-based process (Umm, umm).

Phil Clarke: I understand, alright, good to talk with you.

David Obendorf: No, thank you!

Phil Clarke: Thank you, Tasmanian veterinary pathologist, Dr David Obendorf about the ‘fox war’; if there are indeed any foxes in Tasmania.