Amongst files released under Freedom of Information in 2002 there were witness statements given by several Tasmanians who claimed that they saw a fox escape from a container being unloaded at the Agfest site in early May 2001.

On the evening of 15 May, a well-respected field naturalist saw a fox cross Illawarra Road just a few kilometres east of the Agfest site - Quercus Park. Over the next two months a spate of fox sightings were reported in the region, until the Parks and Wildlife Service said that fox sightings had dried up. Department of Primary Industry and Water have since stated that sightings of the fox in the area were the catalyst for the government response. This fox incident came three years after another live fox arrived through the seaport at Burnie. At the time the Parks and Wildlife managers said this fox escape was a wake up call for Tasmania.

 

Amongst the fox FOI documents is one marked ‘confidential’, prepared by DPIW it detailed an elaborate conspiracy to smuggle in 11 fox cubs, rear them to maturity and release them. A Police taskforce was set up. However, the alleged conspiracy was never proven. Despite the lack of proof, this theory has remained the Government’s main basis for their belief that wild foxes are present in Tasmania.

 

There appears to be two possible storylines for why foxes have recently been seen in Tasmania. The Government version suggests it’s due to what they describe as ecological terrorists.  Another version attributes the occurrence of single foxes to failures in quarantine biosecurity and the increased freight movements into Tasmania. Regrettably these two storylines are the political battle lines, but is science being properly used to assist the effort?

 

The science requires that all assumptions and constructions must be tested.  In my opinion the available physical evidence on offer has yet to be checked properly. All caring Tasmanians would prefer that we shut the door before the foxes have bolted. The Government claims there is evidence of the presence of foxes but they also claim that there is no evidence of
fox breeding. The fox taskforce must concentrate on the reported fox hot-spots and demonstrate, through ground-truthing methods and proof of fox habitation. This approach should improve the publics’ confidence in this costly task force program.

 

Human nature and the power of suggestion are phenomenaL! Reflecting of America’s case of waging a 15 year war in Vietnam - costing billions of dollars and millions of lives - Robert McNamara (US Secretary for Defence) said: ”We see what we want to believe. Seeing and believing are different things and they are often wrong.” 

As Robert McNamara found out 20 years after America departed Vietnam in defeat, trading on assumptions, constructions, exaggeration and group-think’ belief was their great national failure.

Those intent on such pursuits have two options - either vigorously test the truthfulness and validity of any evidence or accept it and realise the risk of aiding and abetting untested constructions & assumptions.

 

Dr DAVID OBENDORF
Tasmania’s fox-media continues. On Monday, Pip Lees a journalist with The Examiner wrote that the two fox sightings with multiple corroborations were at Burnie in May 1998 and Agfest in May 2001. Public acknowledgement of the second fox presence, resulting from another biosecurity failing comes 8 years after the incident. Why is it so?