Image for Crying ‘Fox’ too often…

Tell a story often enough and people begin to believe it.

In June 2002 David Llewellyn resurrected a conspiracy theory covered by front-page head lines in the Mercury - ‘Fox Plot’ [Reference: Fox Plot’ by Michelle Paine Mercury, 5 June 2002]. The Minister claimed there had been a group of Tasmanian hunters who brought in several litters of fox cubs, reared them in captivity in Tasmania and then released them at four sites across the state.

This Minister got the same story 12 months earlier from his Parks & Wildlife rangers but when Tasmania Police investigated, there was no substance to the allegation [see: Money disappearing around a fox hole, HERE]. Llewellyn also posted a $50,000 government reward for information on the fox plotters.

What few people realise is that this ‘Fox Plot’ reincarnation occurred after two fox hoaxing incidents took place in 2001. In September 2001 a Tasmanian fox hunter Eric Bosworth claimed he shot a fox at Symmons Plains in the northern Midlands and the Department of Primary Industries claimed his shot fox was a ‘sibling’ to a fox skin posted to them three months earlier.

Through the media that ‘sibling’ fox pelt was linked to a sensational photograph of two known Tasmanian men holding a dead fox beside a road sign near Longford.  That published photograph was in turn associated with the recovery - by PWS rangers - of a foot print thought to be made by a fox. As it was reported, the fox foot print was found around the time the photograph was sent to the papers.

Of course this fox hullabaloo in the northern Midlands was all linked to the sighting of the ‘Agfest Fox’ by Chris Spencer saw near Carrick in mid-May 2001.

In October 2001 the pieces of this fox plot puzzle were all falling into place. PWS presented a talk to a tourism seminar in Launceston on the threat of foxes in Tasmania. It was reported in The Sunday Examiner newspaper and guess what? – the ‘Fox Plot’ story identical to the discredited conspiracy theory given to Minister Llewellyn by PWS staff in the June 2001 ‘Confidential Briefing Note’ was re-iterated.

‘Parks and Wildlife officers believe that a Northern Tasmanian gang has deliberately imported foxes into Tasmania and bred them for sport shooting. Police were told that a gang had gone to the mainland and imported fox litters on the Spirit of Tasmania on at least two occasions.  On one occasion the litter was reared and released in the Longford district, but they soon disappeared. A second importation of two litters were also bred up before being released in three locations. The release points and fox sightings fitted “hand-in-glove”.  A meeting of Parks & Leisure Australia in Launceston last week was told that information was referred to police but no charges resulted…’ [Reference: Gang ‘bred foxes’ by Ian Pattie, The Sunday Examiner 7 October 2001]

The October 2001 ‘Gang bred foxes’ story emerged at the time PWS had put together new ‘evidence’ – Mr Bosworth had shot a fox in northern Tasmania and its ‘sibling’ fox had been sent to a PWS office by post!

The difficulties with these assumptions were manifold. The fox Mr Bosworth claims he shot in Tasmania had arrived dead, shot in Victoria; the ‘Fox Plot’ conspiracy had been discredited by Tasmania Police months earlier; the fox sighted by Mr Spencer was linked to several witness statements of a fox escaping from an imported container at the Agfest site near Carrick and the molecular genetics had not proven these two fox exhibits were ‘siblings’.

But the Tasmanian fox story was now out of the bag and PWS and taxpayers money were in hot pursuit.

Ten years on and still not one confirmed Tasmanian fox has been shot, trapped, poisoned or photographed.