Image for Tasmanian foxes - an endangered species

ABC Tasmanian Country Hour - Monday, 19 September 2011
Interview with Fox Eradication Program manager, Craig Elliott


Rosemary Grant: Well now to the fox taskforce and despite intensive monitoring, Tasmania’s government-funded fox control program has recorded no physical evidence of foxes this year. It’s now been 18 months since the last positive evidence of foxes was found as DNA detected in a scat. Fox Eradication Program manager, Craig Elliott says the absence of new evidence doesn’t prove anything; he says they’re encouraging landholders and the people involved in the program to ‘move forward’.

Craig Elliott: Basically every morning that I walk in and look at that map; that’s the scale of the effort in front of us. We’ve got some serious territory in front of us. And ahh… the approach were taking here,  we’re dealing with a serious invasive animal, so at the moment we’ve got two baiting fronts moving forward; one is… is just come up to Hobart and now is going to start just on the northern side of Hobart and continue on through there. The other one now is around the Montagu River area, just below Robbins Island [far NW Tasmania]. So the baiting fronts that we’re using is basically targeting ‘core fox habitat’. We’ve [inaudible] a model of exactly where foxes will be, and we’re going to them, to actually ahh… take them on. 

Rosemary Grant: How do know though, that it’s clear?

Craig Elliott:  One of the important part of our program is ahh, the baiting - obviously it does draw a lot of attention.

One of the very important parts of this program - this is what’s giving the program some certainty about what we’re doing - is the monitoring that’s happening behind the [baiting] lines. We have a number of detection dogs in place that are trained and been validated. Once the baitings completed they’re going through that same area and actually looking for foxes. So, any sign of foxes such as scats, dens, even just the scent trails - we believe we’ll be able to pick up those foxes, and be able to essentially say: ‘Has the baiting been effective in this area?; Can we move forward another step? Now this obviously is a fairly resource intensive effort and it’s going to take some time to get through the State, but it’s actually going to give us that certainty.

Then say we’ve got to a point where the program has achieved what it’s meant to achieve and that we can move on to… to the next problems. 

Rosemary Grant: Early days yet… but what are the… this year’s figures showing, compared to the last few?

Craig Elliott: Look, this year is actually showing - quite good; ahhm… the monitoring, it’s, it’s one of those very strange situations where we’re saying the lack of evidence is actually a good sign! If we are searching for evidence and we know that our dogs are effective in terms of searching and we’re not finding evidence, they’re saying the problem is starting to be fixed.

Now, there’s always conjecture about whether the problem [foxes] was there in the first place, but for this program, in terms of being able to say: Have we been able to eradicate foxes from this State?; Have we prevented them from establishing in the State? This is one way we can actually get certainty about the whole; the whole debate.

Rosemary Grant: So how many scats have your dogs found this year?

Craig Elliott: Ahh… absolutely zero, this year. So the monitoring effort that been focussed south of Hobart, and there’s still a little bit of work to be done south of there. But of all that areas that they’ve searched, we’ve come up with… with zero. And that means, essentially - in our mind - that foxes haven’t established in that area.

Rosemary Grant: And public reporting? Where’s that?

Craig Elliott: Public reporting is still interesting. It’s, it’s still a very valuable tool for us. So, we obviously get calls from people behind our baiting fronts - so areas that have already been baited as well as in front of the front. We’re still getting, on average, about 5 to 7 reports a week; everything from carcasses, you know someone’s driving past at 100 kilometres an hour and sees a flash of red fur on the side of the road. They report it to us; and we’ll go out and actually check it and see what it is. So far its been possums, ginger cats, even the occasional dog and that sort of thing. So zero on that part of it. And same with the other responses. We’ve responded to some footprints in the snow up near Waratah for example. We believe they were from a dog. There’s been other sighting from other different times and sometimes this is very hard, because someone sees something - at dusk - a half a second of ahhm…something they see from a distance; it’s a little bit hard for us sometimes for us to follow those up. But we do the best we can and again we’ve got our dogs that try to get on the ground as quickly as possible; our response staff get there as quickly as possible and we have a scout around and do some tracking work to see what we can find.

Rose Grant: But demonstrably nothing at the moment… so how to you read that?

Craig Elliott: Again, it’s, it’s a positive. If the fox was, was a native animal we’d want it listed as “endangered”. That’s what we’re hoping we’ve actually achieved already and that it’s on it’s, it’s last… numbers. Whatever’s out there is that there’s so few now any chance of finding them - as I’ve said - is a lot harder, but it also means that the population won’t establish; there’s just not enough numbers in Tasmania, so that’s where we’ve gotta get past that tipping point - to be actually be able to say that - we have a degree of safety behind us now. 

Sally Dakis: Craig Elliott is the Fox Eradication program manager with DPIPWE and he was talking with our Launceston reporter,  Rosemary Grant.