The Tasmanian Government has released some further information today on fox scat samples collected in the State. They serve as reminder of what's at stake. Foxes have been introduced to Tasmania from time to time for well over a century, but never established. Some people, Tim Flannery is one, have speculated that Tasmanian devils prey on fox cubs, which has stopped the fox becoming established and doing the damage they've done on the mainland. Of course, the Tassie devil is now in serious threat itself, but we probably couldn't rely on the devil providing a biological control for foxes in any case.
Since about 2000, there has been a concerted effort to control an outbreak of foxes in the Island State. We are not sure how they got there, or how many there are, but any fox population getting established is a issue. Naturalist Nick Mooney has likened the potential extinction impact of the fox in Tasmania to that of the last ice age. Unfortunately, many of the species in the "critical weight range" for fox predation are little known to most Australians. Even in Tasmania, the average person's experience of these species is often only as part of the abundant roadkill.
Dr. Barbara Triggs has undertaken this scat analysis, and she is the expert when it comes to wildlife poo in Australia (get hold of her book if you are interested). I don't know how long it takes to go through a fox poo with a fine tooth comb (or whatever tool it is a scat analyst uses). But it must be painstaking work indeed. Dr. Trigg's analysis serves to remind how wide-ranging is the diet of a red fox. Bits of paper, rubber bands and even human hair appear in the samples - foxes will access rubbish around humans if they can, so presumably that's the source of this human waste. Rats, mice, rabbits, insects form part of the diet. The footpads and other undigested bits are used to determine what was eaten - this is no fancy-pants DNA test but good old scat sorting, I understand.
The native species forming part of the diet include possums and quolls as well as wallabies and kangaroos. The eastern barred bandicoot is threatened nationally. It is extinct in South Australia and critically endangered in Victoria where only about 200 survive, mainly in feral-proof sanctuaries. The species is actually relatively common in Tasmania. It is one of those species that we stand to lose if the fox becomes established in Tasmania. Victoria's recovery program for the species has been in place for almost 20 years and comes at considerable cost that, unfortunately, looks like it will be needed for the foreseeable future.
Bennett's wallaby is another Tasmanian species that appears on fox menu. It's a sub-species of the red-necked wallaby on the mainland and another example of a species that has become rare on the mainland but survived well in Tasmania. So well that it has been subjected to culling in the Island State.
The table below is from Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries fox information site. if you have a particular interest, you can sign up for emails of evidence of foxes in Tasmania when it becomes available. Hopefully you won't receive too many emails.
|Native Wildlife||Introduced Species||Other|
Eastern grey kangaroo
Eastern barred bandicoot
Bones of small amphibian
Sponge rubber, plastic, paper, rubber band