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Faecal Fools or Fabricated Faeces?

No less than the Premier of Tasmania – Lara Giddings - has come out to dismiss Ivan Dean’s call for a Police Inquiry into the state’s costly 10-year, $50 million fox-less fox eradication effort. She said another inquiry was unnecessary as some fox scats found in Tasmania contained ‘Tasmanian species’.

Perhaps she was told that some of the 5 dozen DNA-fox positive carnivore scats found in Tasmania had been assessed for diagnostic hairs of the mammals that were preyed upon and passed out in these animal faeces?

During the Parliamentary Inquiry into Foxes conducted in 2009, the FEP presented to the Committee a table of the 33 DNA-fox positive scats that had also been tested for hairs contained in these scats. An experienced hair expert, Barbara Triggs had examined part of these scats to identify the species of prey that the carnivore scats contained. The table shows one scat [#5553 recovered at Longford] with Eastern Barred Bandicoot hair; and another scat [#10378 recovered from Spreyton] with just one hair from a ‘Dayurus sp.’ (a quoll). Both the bandicoot and dasyure are commoner in Tasmania than on the mainland Australia, so – all other things being accepted as authentic, it was more than likely that these scats originated from Tasmania… but the question remained, were they genuine ‘fox scats’? As discussed in a previous TT article detection of mitochondrial fox-DNA sequences in field collected carnivore scats can be derived from small amounts of DNA-contamination – particularly as the FEP was using and handling fox products such as fox scats and urine. The Institute of Applied Ecology, the molecular genetics testing lab responsible for the carnivore scat testing from Tasmania has never responded to this possibility.  For the time being, let’s leave those two scats in the ‘undecided’ basket. 

In June 2009, when the then FEP Manager Alan Johnston presented this table to the Parliamentary Committee, the most interesting scats were: scat #5294 from Hawley Beach 22 Feb 2008; scat #6130 from Burnie 16 Jun 2008; scat #10304 from Burnie 30 Oct 2008; scat #10305 from Wynyard 4 Nov 2008; and scat #10309 from Boat Harbour 16 Dec 2008. These scats were all DNA-fox positive AND they all contained fox hairs!

Yes, these five DNA-fox positive scats, all claimed to have been recovered in northwest Tasmania over 11 months and were all confirmed to contain diagnostic hairs of ‘European Red Fox’.  Whoopee… no shit! Real-deal fox crap.

On first blush if I had been an analyst in the FEP and that compelling set of data was presented to me, I’d be very excited indeed. The ‘two factor authenticity’ test for identifying the identity of the scat-crapper had been finally satisfied; those scats came from the ‘arse of a fox’ (as TT-blogger ‘puddledog’ so eloquently expresses it!)

So after 7 long, hard years of convincing the community that foxes were here, I’d be very excited indeed! I’d really want to convince that FEP manager to go looking for more fox scats using those specially trained scat detection dogs and, more to the point, I’d want to convince him to immediately do follow-up investigations to actually find those North-west coast shitting foxes. I’d be calling on local hunters, landowners and the PWS service personnel and taskforce members to support that focal effort - with the full arsenal of detection skills - spotlights, marksmen, sensor cameras, sand pads, food-lure stations, traps, etc, etc.

So, did the FEP do any of that scat searching or follow up investigation? Did they report those explosive findings to the media on these five DNA-fox positive scats with fox hairs in them? I believe the answer is: No.

But, why not?

If these fox scats were authentic – genuine Tasmanian-recovered scats – that one data set would have buried those trouble-making fox sceptics; given a huge vote of confidence to the Fox Program, and even boosted the morale of the FEP!

So what’s the explanation for why the Taskforce went silent on such a big discovery? Those results could have triggered considerable support from invasive species scientists involved in this program especially Glen Saunders, Stephen Sarre and Tony Peacock (all scientists advising DPIPWE on the Fox Program). But did it?

If I’ve missed that news breaker story in the local media OR that science paper with this vital breakthrough discovery detailed OR that issue of the FEP newsletter that explains these 5 pieces of fox scat that constitute irrefutable evidence of fox presence in Tasmania; someone in the FEP needs to please contact me and Ian Rist and let Ivan Dean know immediately. 

To the stocks we faecal fools must go! My phone number is 6234 5561 or 458 647 946; thank you.

• The Mercury yesterday: Fox taskforce police probe call

  HELEN KEMPTON   |  March 20, 2012 Mercury

TASMANIAN MLC and fox sceptic Ivan Dean wants a police inquiry into the state’s costly 10-year, $50 million fox eradication effort.

The State Government announced at the weekend the taskforce which oversaw the program would be merged into a larger invasive species unit with a new focus on cats. The Fox Eradication Taskforce was established in 2002, after a fox arrived in Burnie in a shipping container from Melbourne and sparked fears the predator would establish a foothold in Tasmania.

The 47 staff working in the field for the taskforce will all be absorbed into the broader unit, which includes weed management and wild animal management personnel.

Environment Minister Brian Wightman said efficiencies would be achieved when staff were given broader work areas and developed new skills. Mr Dean said he, and a group of scientists, would continue to scrutinise all the physical “evidence” collected over the past decade which was used by the taskforce to show foxes were living in Tasmania.

Mr Dean, a former police commander, said he was still waiting, after two months, for the taskforce to hand over the information he had requested.

“I will not be letting this drop because of a name change if anything the level of scrutiny of this long-running program is going to intensify,” Mr Dean said yesterday.

“I think we need a police inquiry into the dealings of the Fox Eradication Taskforce the evidence gathered.”

The Government said the taskforce’s controversial 1080 fox baiting program the world’s biggest evasive animal eradication campaign would still continue despite the new focus on cats instead of foxes.

“In Parliament this week, I will be calling for the baiting program to be stopped.” the MLC for Windemere said.

“This baiting of this so-called core fox habitat has proven nothing, there has been no advantage to the program whatsoever.”

No poisoned foxes have been found despite the baiting of many thousands of hectares of private land around Hobart, in the Central Highlands and North-West.

The establishment of the new invasive species unit will allow the Cat Management Act 2009 to finally be implemented.

Tasmania’s peak agricultural group and Environment Tasmania have both welcomed the decision to focus on feral cats, saying the move was long overdue.

The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association said it was important to remain vigilant about the threat of foxes.

“But they are only one of many serious threats to Tasmanian agriculture and wildlife,” TFGA president Jan Davis said.

“Populations of feral cats, rabbits and wild dogs have exploded ... dealing with weeds alone costs Tasmanian farmers about $58 million a year.”

• And,

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The fox in a role frequently given to him in medieval carvings - standing in a pulpit and sermonizing to a flock of gullible ducks, one of whom makes an offering to the preacher. The fox’s hypocrisy is revealed by the cock already tucked away into his cowl (St Marys, Beverley).

The Fox’s Death and Resurrection

In the many medieval stories about him, Reynard is often threatened with hanging for his crimes, but he is never hanged. The nearest he ever comes to death on the gallows is where he successfully appeals to the king for clemency from the rungs of a ladder propped against the gibbet.

Varty, Kenneth (1958) Reynard the Fox, Leicester University Press.

From: Undergraduate Media [undergraduatemedia@gmail.com]