Tasmanian Times readers in other states of Australia can be forgiven for not understanding the roadmap prepared for Tasmania’s decade-long war on foxes. For the interested tourist to Tasmania, a few sign posts may help…
Signpost 1: A live fox from Victoria was allowed to disembark at Burnie in May 1998 through a sea-freight facility. The crew knew that a live fox was on board their freight ferry and despite alert calls being sent to Quarantine Tasmania, this fox simply walked off the ship. For several weeks Tasmanian Parks & Wildlife Service attempted to locate and catch it. Without fanfare this Victorian fox was caught and killed weeks later by a local Burnie man…the end of the road for Victorian fox No. 1.
Signpost 1½: In 1999 a livestock carrier from the Australian mainland brought a freshly skinned fox with its head attached to the Cooee livestock saleyards near Devonport in northern Tasmania. The fox skin & head was draped over a Tasmanian car to be easily seen. Another fox hunt was nearly off and running down the track when the trick was exposed and killed off as ‘a prank’ by the Director of PWS. [This is one of number of hoaxes that litter Tasmania’s fox trails.]
Signpost 2: In May 2001 a local field naturalist reported seeing a live fox crossing Illawarra Road in a farming region of northern Tasmania. Within a few weeks DPIWE and PWS had set up an Incident Control Centre in Launceston on the understanding that this live fox was one of a number of foxes that had been secretly introduced and then released at four different locations - near Burnie, Longford, St Helens and Campania. Despite the use of dog teams and surveillance cameras and many government employees on the trail this fox was never located.
By June the Tasmanian Police joined the scent trail of the alleged fox smugglers; all to no avail. Claims of a recent conspiracy to import fox cubs, hold them in captivity and then release them was summed up in one word by the Police minister - ‘unsubstantiated’. The Police report described the smuggling claim as based on rumour, gossip and bad information.
Signpost 3: Claims of a fox shot at St Helens; a fox pelt was displayed for the cameras. PWS officers came and played in a farm dam looking for a decomposed fox body. All to no avail; this incident was added to the prank-hoax list.
Signpost 4: A real sign post this time - a dead fox held up by two bashful men next to a road sign near Longford. This fox skin was apparently then posted to PWS as proof of the kill. Mr Ian Rist named the two men at a Parliamentary Inquiry but apparently to no avail.
Hunters shooting foxes on the Australian mainland have a history of bringing dead foxes back to Tasmania.
Signpost 5: A Tasmanian shooter and fox bounty hunter claimed he shot a fox in northern Tasmania. At the time he thought he’d ‘missed’ his target, then two weeks later he found a decomposed fox body in a field at Symmons Plains.
Signpost 6: Not exactly a ‘fork in the road’ but maybe directions from a tooth-fairy. According to a government ranger he recovered a tooth and some hair of Tasmanian rodent from the composted dead fox. The government’s head fox hunter said this ‘proved’ the fox had eaten a native rodent before the bounty hunter shot it.
The description of the shooting of this fox and the circumstances of its recovery were simply absurd, but apparently the discovery of rodent tooth pointed the way to the next fox signpost.
By the end of 2001 the Tasmanian fox trail was heading south into the Midlands and on to Hobart Town… [To be continued]