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Foxes

History

In 1855, the British introduced the fox to Sydney harbor primarily for hunting purposes.  The fox continued to be introduced throughout Australia until around 1870.  This is when the number of foxes began to multiply rapidly.  They followed the rapid spread of rabbits, which is their main food source.  Along with rabbits, the fox preys on small mammals, reptiles, birds, and wild fruits and insects.  Since the fox is such a capable predator and has no natural predators in Australia, the fox population has been very hard to control.

Why they were introduced

The fox was introduced to Australia primarily for hunting purposes. 

Problems

Many biologists agree that the fox is bad news for the wildlife of Australia.  This theory came about after several studies were performed to identify the effects of foxes on the wildlife.  Jack Kinnear was one of the first to successfully identify the fox as dangerous pest in his study on the populations of wallabies between 1979 and 1986.  He noticed that the wallabies had become extinct in some areas, and that their numbers were drastically decreasing in other areas.  There was no sign of disease or reproductive problems among the animals.  He then linked the decrease in numbers to the increase of foxes in the area.  By shooting the foxes and baiting them with 1080 (sodium monofluoroacetate), the number of foxes drastically  decreased.  With this decrease, the number of wallabies began to steadily increase, and the population was again at a healthy number.  In areas where the foxes were not removed, the number of wallabies continues to decrease.  Kinnear then concluded that the fox was the cause of the devastation of the wallaby population.  Other studies also saw an increase in other native species with the removal of the fox.  Some animals were even removed from the endangered list because their numbers rapidly increased after the removal of the fox.  The fox has been detrimental on the existence of the native fauna in Australia also.  Many plants are now extinct on the mainland as a result of the fox eating them..  This also affects the animals because they lose their main source of food.

Improving the Situation

The fox epidemic was definitely a problem in the eyes of most Australians.  There have therefore been efforts to control this pest.  The main method of fox control is baiting with 1080.  This is sodium monoflouroacetate, which is a naturally occurring poison to which native animals are immune.  Foxes lack the tolerance for this chemical, and therefore are killed after ingesting it.  Another method of fox control is being researched.  They are researching a virus that would prevent reproduction of the animal, which would then cause a significant decrease in the population.  However, more research is needed before this method is effective.  Finally, many people do shoot the foxes when they are seen in the wild.  Although this method would not make a significant difference alone, combined with baiting it can help to impact the total population

Status

Currently the number of foxes is not diminishing.  Once most of the foxes are removed from the area, Australia will replenish the supply of native wildlife.  However, this can not be done until the fox is no longer threatening their existence.  It is apparent to many that the fox is having a negative effect on the wildlife of Australia.  Unless something is done to solve this problem Australia will lose many of its native species for good.

(Above):  The Australian Fox, a deadly animal or just misunderstood? 

Written By:  Lacey Mitchell

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