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A KEY piece of evidence that sparked Tasmania’s controversial multi-million-dollar hunt for foxes has been thrown into question.

New tests on a fox skull found two years ago on a property at Interlaken in the central highlands have raised major questions about the presence of the destructive invaders in the state.

Upper house member Ivan Dean - an outspoken critic of the Fox Eradication Task Force - had the skull tested in August after agitating since July 2010 to gain access to it.

The skull is part of the official fox evidence relied upon by the taskforce which is about to exetend its baiting program to the Central Highlands and far North-West to justify the $27 million spent chasing the animals down.

Mr Dean said that on the face of it, the discovery looked very good.

“It is strong evidence that should satisfy even the most ardent of non-believers that foxes are in the State. But it is not quite like that when you look into the background,” he said.

Mr Dean said that while DNA analysis proved the skull belonged to a female red fox, there is no proof it actually died in Tasmania.

“It is not what it all seems and there needs to be a much further and deeper investigation completed in relation to this matter as there needs to be in relation to a lot of the other physical evidence that is being produced and used in Tasmania,” he said.

Prominent Tasmanian wildlife veterinarian Dr David Obendorf, himself a critic of the fox eradication program, conducted the tests at the Queen Victoria Museum in Launceston on August 17 in the presence of museum staff, two members of the taskforce and Mr Dean.

“Leaving aside the details of the alleged original discovery of the skull and then its recovery from a shed at Railton, there is no corroborative link to the Tasmanian landscape,” Dr Obendorf’s report says.

“The provenance of this fox skull, or indeed whether it belonged to a fox living at large in Tasmania, remain unproven.”

Dr Obendorf’s report said genotyping had shown it was a fox separate from any genotyped fox scats which had been recovered in Tasmania.

The skull had also not suffered any obvious weathering effects from its exposure before it was discovered.

The taskforce announced that the skull was discovered a full year after it was claimed to have been found on top of a tree stump on Peter Downie’s Central Highlands property.

The taskforce announced in February last year that the skull had been found by a member of the public some time between December 2008 and March 2009 and he had taken it to his Railton home and stored it in a shed

No other bones were found during a search of 20 ha around the Interlaken property.

“Apart from the loss of some teeth the skull lacked any damage or signs of weathering exposure,” Dr Obendorf’s report says.

Mr Dean said his attempt to gain access to the skull had been thwarted.

“Every obstacle which could be put in front of me was put in front of me,” he said yesterday.

Mr Dean said it was not clear why the man who found the skull took it back to his shed at Railton.

” It follows then that just by chance, I am told, members of the fox eradication program happened to turn up on his property and, lo and behold, saw the skull in the shed and decided to take possession of it,” Mr Dean said.

“It did not resemble a skull that had been left out in the open for a long period of time.

“If anybody is aware of what happens, they fracture and get lines through them and they discolour. This skull did not look like that at all. It looked like it had been a well-preserved skull.”

Helen Kempton, Mercury HERE