WHEN Tasmania’s public War on Foxes began in 2001 it was politically convenient to suggest the increased sighting reports of foxes across Tasmania resulted from covert action in the late 1990s by malevolent hunters who intentionally smuggled several consignments of fox cubs into the State, reared them in secrecy and then released them in up to four different sites.

That was the official, yet completely unsubstantiated, line that the State Government was running. Even David Llewellyn himself used the term ‘unsubstantiated’ to describe this allegation in a Budget Estimates hearing in 2002.

Sensational and dramatic as this alleged scenario was, at the time of it’s telling it was politically convenient and expedient. But a Tasmania Police Taskforce investigation found the allegation to be baseless.

In Mein Kampf, the author writes that it’s the impudence, the barefacedness of it, as much as the size of the falsehood, that makes ordinary people believe it. Ordinary people simply can’t imagine that people of standing would tell such an untruth.

The European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) was always an unwanted alien species for Tasmania. Yet for several decades, perhaps going back as far as the mid-nineteenth century, there’s been a benign indifference to the potential threat foxes posed to the Apple Isle. This was perhaps based on a notion that if foxes were going to establish and breed in Tasmania they would’ve done so by now.

In the last few decades Tasmania’s ecology has changed dramatically.  The “no foxes in Tasmania” notion was questioned by the decline of the island’s devil population and the realisation that a live fox could use a ship to immigrate to Tasmania.  In 1998 a fox boldly arrived in Tasmania and lived in Burnie until it was caught by a member of the public and killed.

How many times have these types of singleton foxes arrived from Victoria in rural merchandise delivered to rural properties, in bulk stock feed consignments, farm machinery or through dockside pranks?

Answer this question and the means of entry and the hotspots for fox establishment are defined.

In the six years Tasmania has conducted its Fox War, thousands of containerized consignments of feed grain have arrived in Tasmania and delivered straight to rural properties.  Such grain, downgraded as stock feed, can be rodent-contaminated and as such would be significant attractant to foxes.  These regular consignments of feed grain containers posed a significant fox risk — and an embarrassment for both the Tasmanian Government and the rural community that receives them. 

Undertaking a thorough risk assessment process for foxes entering Tasmania should have been the basis for truth-telling by politicians.

The State Government conveniently wanted Tasmanians to believe that a deliberate smuggling of foxes took place and did not want to acknowledge the long-standing failure in Tasmania’s own oversight of border security and quarantine.

Tasmania was too blasé about this threat and didn’t care enough to watch its borders for the potential of these migrating foxes. Essentially there has been inadequate quarantine and non-existent biosecurity for decades in relation to foxes!

Now the State Government seems convinced by its Departmental biologists that there may be anything from a few dozen or up to several hundred foxes living in Tasmania — in various locations.

Sadly, if that is a genuine truth then, I sense, it is very dubious that the laying of buried 1080-baits will eradicate them from the State. 

But wait … what is such a ‘belief’ based on?

Say you hear about an amazing treasure house containing jewels for the taking but you don’t have the key to the door: all your fantasies about how you’ll spend your new-found wealth are a complete hallucination and those fantasies then determine your actions. Such fanciful imaginings about wondrous wealth is totally unrealistic if there is no interest in the methods of attainment or in taking any immediate and deliberate action. If you have no ‘key’, no way to bring your ‘belief’ into everyday action you might as well give up on the quest!

Belief cannot be sustained by misconception and half-truths. Everyone has the opportunity — as an individual — to test the basis of their accepted reality.

Telling a Truth to Power has never been easy.

Some knowledgeable and trustworthy individuals strongly believe that they have seen a live fox in Tasmania. They are personally convinced by their senses. We — the people who have not seen a fox in Tasmania — need to either accept that information on face value or we make an effort to critically test it. Those individuals are confident by what they saw, however, if others are asked to ‘believe’ the same thing and to make decisions based on belief, they need to be convinced through credible method and sound logic.

[For the record, may I say that I do accept that certain individuals have seen and reported live foxes in Tasmania since 2001. The genuineness of such reports can be the basis for immediate follow up to validate and hopefully contain the threat.]

Human history is littered with the stories of experienced charlatans who have fooled ordinary people (as well as kings!) into believing they found ‘El Dorado’. The critical questions to ask in such situations are:  Who is telling the stories? And who does it benefit?


“Question Everything” should be the mantra of objective scientists. Somehow in this War on Foxes to question evidence impugns the questioner with the perjorative label of ‘sceptic’. 

Surrendering the ability to test someone else’s ‘belief’ is a fraught business. 

Publicly the State Government offered selective information from various fox incidents to support their claims that foxes were living in Tasmania. In 2005 I was asked by the independent chairperson of a fox review panel to make a written submission on the physical evidence obtained from these incidents. You can read some of the excerpts of the Fox Review in Tasmanian Times.  David Obendorf archive

In earlier articles in Tasmanian Times I’ve said that dialogue is not about the ‘likelihood’ of foxes coming to Tasmania; it’s about sifting and sorting between the rumour, hearsay, fabrication, and hoaxing and the credible evidence that objectively confirms that foxes are present and present in numbers sufficient for breeding to take place.

Some Tasmanian Times readers may remember earlier blogs where there was dialogue over the critical matter of whether more than one fox had ‘established’ in any particular location and whether foxes were successfully breeding in the wild. 

These are valid points at issue.

A Victorian fox consultant employed by the Tasmanian government in the early stages of Fox program was quite adamant that foxes were already established in Tasmania back in 2002.

“Foxes are established in Tasmania.”  — Tim Bloomfield, Fox-Free Tasmania Program Review November 2002.

Despite this belief and personal confidence there were, and still are, gaps in the science. Based on several fox incidents offered as proof, this belief has been challenged through careful research, review and examination of the timelines before, during and after the incidents.

On the 29 January, Tim Bloomfield wrote an open letter to David Llewellyn (published in the Examiner) asking him — “Where is the urgency?”

My queries to David Llewellyn are: If you believe that there are several dozen or several hundred foxes in Tasmania, why isn’t there urgency?

Who do you believe, Minister?

And what do you believe, Minister?

 

 

David Obendorf

The State Government conveniently wanted Tasmanians to believe that a deliberate smuggling of foxes took place and did not want to acknowledge the long-standing failure in Tasmania’s own oversight of border security and quarantine.

Tasmania was too blasé about this threat and didn’t care enough to watch its borders for the potential of these migrating foxes. Essentially there has been inadequate quarantine and non-existent biosecurity for decades in relation to foxes!