Helen Kempton highlights yet again the non-science that make up the Fox Eradication efforts.

In the Mercury today (Wed) she cites that only one of six sniffer dogs used by the now re-named FEP to track down foxes can actually sniff out the elusive predator, tests show.

The skills of the German wire-haired pointers had been tested in Melbourne in February 2012 and one of the six dogs tested by the FEP-contracted dog-trainer, Steve Austin was deemed capable of scenting a fox.

The dogs which cost $350,000 to buy and train were being used to investigate sightings and to scent behind bait lines as the massive eradication blitz continued across Tasmania’s “core fox habitat”. The scent dogs have been seen as the insurance back up surveillance in areas after baiting to detect dead foxes (unsuccessfully to date) or to as a follow up that there are no Tasmanian foxes remaining in these baited areas

The first four German pointer puppies arrived in Tasmania in January 2010 to be trained as fox-scent tracking dogs. Then Primary Industries Minister David Llewellyn said this particular breed of dog was highly recommended by fox-hunting and dog-training experts.

And here’s the reply from the Minister for Foxes:

“The Fox Eradication Program (FEP) has a program of ongoing improvement for both the detector dogs and scat dogs. While they are subject to validation testing twice each year, there are also other exercises and assessments which use different techniques to continually lift the standards for these dogs.

The detector dogs were recently examined interstate at a much more difficult, higher standard using a low scent track of a juvenile fox.  There is no national standard or similar for how the dogs are assessed.  The Fox Eradication Program is breaking new ground all the time with the dogs and are using the experience of internationally recognised experts in their training.” 

If these dogs fail basic scent detection tests – even juvenile fox scent - who’s to know whether there are any foxes – dead or alive - in these baited areas?