Hansard – Legislative Council

Thursday 1 December 2011


[3.13 p.m.]
Mr DEAN (Windermere) - Madam President, I have a fox story to finish up with, in the hope that a new direction for the Fox Eradication Program can be found.

This is about the Bosworth Fox.  This is about a decaying fox body that is still being used as strong physical evidence of the existence of foxes in Tasmania, and that incident is highly questionable.  In fact there is a Tasmania fox yarn that hit the headlines in the same month the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York was attacked in September 2001, the only tragic difference being that the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York was a reality.

Mr [Eric] Bosworth claims he was spotlighting with his mate, Scott Geeves, when he picked up about 50 to 60 metres away bright eye-shine.  He took a shot.  He claimed he did not know what type of animal it was.  He was using a 100-watt spotlight and a 4x magnification scope, equipment with which you would clearly see what animal it was at that distance.  You would probably see clearly every hair on its body.  Here the story changes.  In one report Mr Bosworth said in court he missed his target and kept driving looking for ‘roos.  In another he says he went to the spot he aimed at, looked for the animal and could not find it.  Even a Fox Task Force officer conceded that it was a strange state of affairs but added Mr Bosworth probably had cataracts on his eyes and was using a dirty scope.  That may well be the situation. 

Mr Bosworth further initially claimed he had never shot a fox before and had not encountered eye-shine like this before in his life.  However, he later told the Mercury newspaper in an exclusive interview - I am led to believe it was a paid interview - he had been shooting since he was 14 years of age and had shot foxes on the mainland.  His friends have confirmed that he had regularly gone to Victoria shooting deer and foxes.

On this occasion, Eric was using, as he claims, a Brno .22 magnum rifle, but rifle experts have said it is highly implausible that this type of firearm killed this fox.  The injuries at 50-60 metres were not consistent at all with that calibre firearm.

There is enough information here to clearly demonstrate that Mr Bosworth was an unreliable source of a fox find in Tasmania and, in essence, was having a lend of the program.  In their eagerness to get fox evidence, the Task Force investigators were prepared to accept anything.

On top of this there is a mix-up of reported dates and days when things happened, and I can go into that if you want me to, but I will not do that at this stage.  The discovery of this dead fox is equally troubling.  About 10 days later, Eric claims he and his mate were in the area again when he found a dead animal - a fox.  Mr Bosworth removed the carcass, went home and called Parks and Wildlife Services.  The carcass was then given all the treatment - X-ray, post-mortem, et cetera.  No lead shot or fragments were found in the carcass at this time.  Very small lead fragments were later said to have been found in the carcass, but police tests reveal no connection to Bosworth’s firearm.

Hairs were then said to have been taken from the fox’s decaying stomach and they were identified as having come from a long-tailed mouse, said to be a Tasmanian endemic rodent.  Serious forensic concerns emerged at a later time concerning that analysis.  That critical evidence was discarded and cannot be re-examined.

On 17 October 2001 Mr [Chris] Emms, a member of the Government’s Fox Task Force, reported:

‘From the evidence I have collected and after seeing the area where the fox was shot I conclude that Mr Bosworth did shoot this fox on crown land bordering the Symmons Plains property.  It is apparent from the scientific results that the fox has been dieting on Tasmanian products’ - 

He used the plural, although only one piece of evidence was found - ‘which indicates it has been in Tasmania for some time.’

Based on this, we are now in possession of evidence that we have had a number of foxes roaming in the Longford-Symmons Plains area, a conclusion drawn on an incredible storyline.

Tasmanian biologists later highlighted that the long-tailed mouse is not known to occur in the vicinity where the fox was allegedly shot.  For some inexplicable reason this critical forensic evidence - the hair recovered in the fox’s stomach - had been disposed of and could not be re-examined.  Why?  There is no explanation why the whole mouse or parts of it were not found - there is no evidence to understand and explain that either.

When these issues were raised with PWS biologists assigned to the Task Force, it was suggested that the fox most likely had been shot somewhere else, closer to a location where these long-tailed mice are found, and then transported to where it was later recovered.  Mr [Nick] Mooney, a biologist with the task force at the time, was also involved in this case.  When the inconsistencies in the Bosworth fox case were raised with him, he offered this explanation, which I paraphrase. Bosworth was trespassing on another private property in the vicinity of the Little Den under the Western Tiers and he shot the fox there.  He then moved the fox to the Symmons Plains property where he has permission to enter.  The long-tailed mouse is found in the Little Den area.

Another Tasmanian biologist queried the hair analysis, pointing out it was indistinguishable from a related mainland species, and it could not be, and was not, differentiated.  Three months earlier a fox skin was also forwarded to the wildlife officers at Prospect and it was found that there was probably a connection between it and the shot fox of Bosworth’s.  But later it was found that the DNA testing of that skin was questionable, and inaccuracies were identified.

Mr Bosworth was later convicted of a number of offences that were at the time pending in relation to his shooting of animals out of time and without permits, et cetera.

Madam President, I raise this issue because it is an incredible storyline and in fact you might think you are reading a fiction bestseller, if you did not know all of the circumstances.  But I raise this issue, Madam President, in the hope of getting some new directions for the program and a direction that is likely to be accepted by the public.  I raised one here recently in relation to feral cats.  Next year, I will raise some of the other evidence that is being used which, very clearly, is - at least in my view - fanciful to say the least. {ENDS]

Mercury: Fox-watch on chicken coop

THE MERCURY | December 06, 2011 12.01am

SURVEILLANCE cameras have been installed at a property south of Hobart to help determine whether a fox took three chickens from a chicken coop last week.

If the tapes show a fox approaching the coop, it will be the first video recording of the pest since the $3 million a year Fox Eradication Taskforce began in 2002.

Middleton property owner Kim Cawthorn contacted the taskforce when she found a trail of feathers and three bantam chickens missing from the coop.

The family has kept chickens for six years.

"It could be devils, it could be a feral cat, we don't know," said Mrs Cawthorn's husband, Ken.

"We have never lost a chicken before but we've spoken to neighbours who said they have lost them to devils."

Fox Eradication Taskforce spokeswoman Liz Wren said the surveillance cameras tapes were part of an ongoing investigation.

"There have been reports of chickens missing from a property," she said.

"The surveillance cameras have been set up in order to discover what led to the disappearance."

The tapes will be collected at the end of the week.

Mercury HERE

Image: HERE

[2.47 p.m.]

Mr DEAN (Question) - Madam President, my question is to the honourable Leader.  The brochure Eradicate, Issue 5, Spring 2011, continues to refer to and use information that is not accurate.  In fact, none is proven.  It makes reference to physical evidence and depicts this on the map of Tasmania included as part of the brochure.  Will the Leader please advise why the Fox Eradication Program continues to use the data relative to the ‘Cleveland fox’ - Glen Esk fox - as real physical evidence when it has been shown to be a hoax? 

Why was a fox skull used as physical evidence of the existence of foxes in Tasmania when this exhibit was found in a shed at Railton? 

Why is the blood sample from Old Beach continually used as real physical evidence when it is clearly inaccurate and misleading? 

Why is the scat evidence continually used as physical evidence of the existence of foxes in this State when no physical connection to this State has been established for any scats?

Mr PARKINSON - I thank the honourable member for his persistent line of questioning in this area.  The Eradicate bulletin, published by the Fox Eradication Program, is distributed throughout the State.  It provides stakeholders and the community with a regular update on the program and I encourage all members to read it.  The honourable member’s questions appear to be based on a false premise.  The Fox Eradication Program does not refer to false physical evidence of the presence of foxes, and is careful to ensure that accurate information is provided to the Tasmanian community. 
It is pertinent to note that the Public Accounts Committee, which included the honourable member, found that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that there are foxes in Tasmania in limited numbers and at low density. 

Mr Dean - Do they say that the member did not agree with that report?

Mr PARKINSON - In response to the honourable member’s specific questions, firstly, the program has no evidence to confirm that the ‘Cleveland fox’ - Glen Esk fox - discovered as a carcass on the side of the road and indicating the likelihood that it was struck by a car and died at that location, was a hoax.

Secondly, there is no reason to disbelieve the account of the member of the public who found the fox skull.  The skull is included in the list of physical evidence so the community can be aware of the range of physical items that have been found.  However, contrary to media reports, the skull is not regarded as a key piece of evidence.

Thirdly, the blood sample from Old Beach was found in response to a public report of a poultry kill and was independently confirmed via DNA testing as coming from a fox.  It is not clear why the honourable member refers to it as inaccurate and misleading.

Fourthly, as the honourable member is well aware, the 58 scats found to date in Tasmania have been independently tested and found to have come from foxes.  Whilst no material from species endemic to Tasmania has been found in the scats, it is equally relevant to note that no material has been found in the scats of any species that do not occur in Tasmania.