The most troubling aspect of Tasmania’s war on foxes has been its exposure of how publicly-funded science is done in the island state.
As much as the sceptics and critics have been white-anted, attacked and hated, few have bothered to examine if any of Tasmania’s fox story actually added up to a real & present danger.
There may be some eerie parallels with the collapse of the Gunns Ltd Empire when the market finally lost confidence in the company’s governance and its public relations spin.
As a fox ecologist suggested only recently, if Tasmania is still unsure when and how the foxes got here; how many there are; where they are; whether they are breeding or not or how best to eradicate them over a vast area of deemed ‘core fox habitat’ - after ten years - some serious questions need to be asked.
Was the program a fabrication? Or are our fox hunters incompetent? Or are Tasmania’s breed of foxes just too ‘highly intelligent, wary and elusive’ to be detected or killed?
Many Tasmanians including astute current affairs observers are convinced that some lies were told in its early phases and ten years on the embarrassment of embezzlement haunts both the fleecers and fleeced.
To do a blow-by-blow critique of the non-science of this program would bore the ordinary reader, even interested TT fox readers. Even the ‘fear of foxes’ and invoking the ‘precautionary principle’ have past their Useby dates.
After falling across the path of a courageous Government fox official recently I began to understand just how Tasmania’s fox hunting program might have ended up this way.
For starters the Government don’t like criticism FULL STOP. Nothing new there; welcome to Taz-mania! Secondly, they don’t enjoy having to change their story-line every time critics, sceptics and fox ecologists highlight the bleeding obvious. Thirdly, they have an inability to acknowledge that the program might be unscientific, operationally impractical and muddled-headed. They spend taxpayer funds commissioning their ‘experts’ tell them that the Tasmanian fox does exist even though it is invisible except when it shits and when some turn up dead. One of these ‘elusive’ creatures apparently demised in the Central Highlands leaving its intact cranium to be found; it was duly hailed as new evidence - a ‘fox skull’. Meanwhile the mystery of the defecating fox of Bruny Island remains unsolved.
If Tasmania had suddenly declared the island had Foot & Mouth Disease in 2001 and received Commonwealth funds to ‘eradicate’ that feared pestilence in all haste; even the dimmest-witted administration in Canberra would be entitled to be infuriated if, after a decade, Tasmania had yet to vanquish the virus.
But I sense a rather terrified form of soul-searching might be going on in Canberra. They should ask: how did we allow this fox eradication caper to go on so long for which the history is a farrago of deceptions, the logic of control is roundly questioned and there is nothing tangible to show for it.
[* Farrago - a confused mixture, a hotchpotch]