Recently ABC reporter Jane Ryan went out on a fox poisoning expedition in north west Tasmania:

She managed to ask a few questions of the Fox Eradication Program’s boss, Craig Elliott

Jane Ryan: The Fox Eradication Program is controversial really and there’s one reason for that, and that is many people in Tasmania who do not believe there are foxes here.

What evidence do you have to suggest that there actually are foxes actually in Tasmania?

Craig Elliott: Yeah…. Ahhm… it’s always been something that, ahmm ... has amazed me but it’s a result of the fact that the Government got in before the impact of foxes was actually being seen. So, back in…. ahh… about 10 years ago, there was increased sightings and ahhh… and over that period there were a couple of road kill foxes found which is again normally a sign, you know, that the population’s increasing or at a certain level. In the last few years the ... ahmmm the big indicator for us has been some scats that have been found. And there has now been over 60 scats found and this a… (interrupted)

Jane Ryan: Are they from different foxes or the same one?

Craig Elliott: Yeah… a few of them have been been aahmm ... able to be analysed down to identifying individual foxes.

Jane Ryan: So at the moment you’re running an eradication program; you’re baiting for foxes and you’ve been laying 1080 around farms in the north west, in the south…

Craig Elliott: Well we’ve covered the State; we’ve gone to where the foxes should be and we’ve now cleared it out.

Jane Ryan: Is 1080 sort of established as the best mode of eradication then?

Craig Elliott: It… certainly is… and ahhm… unfortunately again for Tasmania 1080 has such a stigma about it; from how it was used, ahh… in past days. We use a low-dose manufactured bait and the beauty of it is that’s actually derived … it’s been developed, based on a natural chemical… ahhm, an Australian chemical, and Australian natives have a built-in tolerance to that actual chemical.

So… this is one of the big concerns again for a lot of landowners is: “If I let you onto our property and you bait are you going to wipe out all the native wildlife?” And not at the densities we’re putting it out; not at the actual dosage of the,ahh… 1080. [2.28]

Jane Ryan: Guess, one of the major concerns that are raised by lots of people who consider having 1080 on their properties, is the impact it will have on their dogs. How many dogs have been affected by 1080 during this program?

Craig Elliott: Well… it’s interesting again it’s one of the allegations that some people level at us that ahhm… we’re wiping out people’s dogs as well. Ahhm… they’ve been stories up here on the north coast that we’ve knocked over 12 dogs, ahhm ... in the past year or so… ahhm… which there is absolutely no evidence of that. As part of… as we move into a new area we contact local vets and just ask them if they get anything presented to them that could be 1080 poisoning to contact us and we’ll actually pay for the analysis to find out whether it’s 1080 or not. [3.05]

Jane Ryan: Sometimes the bait will get dug up and get eaten… if foxes have got 6 hours to go before they actually curl up and call it a day, how often do you actually know whether or not you’ve baited a fox? It could be anything, couldn’t it?

Craig Elliott: Yeah, that’s one of the biggest, ahhm… problems is, ahhm… knowing what then takes… takes the bait. I mean, sometimes you’ll see something has dug it up and chewed on it partially.

Something like a fox that’s… yeah, all of a sudden you’ve now got something that’s running; that’s out there.

That’s… that’s why people ask us: ‘Why haven’t you actually shown us a fox that’s been baited?’ Well, it’s the same on the mainland where they’re [fox] in control and in amongst a massive number of foxes. They don’t find all the foxes that are dead. 1080, if it’s one of its shortcomings; it’s not an immediate rapid knock down… but, you know, that’s part of the safety side of it, for us.

If we had something like strychnine that we were using; well the risk is if anything touched it; it’s going to get knocked down… we don’t want to take that risk with our native wildlife or with domestic dogs. 

Jane Ryan: You haven’t found any carcasses through this baiting process.

Craig Elliott: Not through the poisoning … and in all, ahh… all reality, ahhm… we don’t expect to.

Jane Ryan: Do do you know that it’s successful then? I mean I’m just really interested in how you can quantify its success if you don’t have any foxes to show for it.

Craig Elliott: Yeah, umm … good question.

The big factor people focus on the baiting, obviously, as… as a big part of the program. And it is. But what we’re doing is really ramping up our monitoring afterwards. So for us to actually say that we’ve actually successfully removed this State of foxes, we need to show that we have gone through the State and actually found no sign of foxes, after the baiting has gone through.

So we use our detector dogs there. And, ahhm, they’re doing some amazing work at the moment and they’re working, ahhm… up here at the moment… in, ahhm… the north west; in the Circular Head area. They’ll come through this area three months after the baiting’s gone through and look for any sign of foxes. So if we find a fox scat outside that period, we know some [foxes] have either survived the baiting – a fox has survived the baiting… or some thing has re-invaded the area.

Jane Ryan: Just quickly before we wrap up, how much has been spent on this program; this particular program since 2009?

Craig Elliott: (Laughs) Good question… the actual figure, ahhm… I wouldn’t have it off the top of my head. We’ve got, ahhm ... a Commonwealth grant, which is tied to fox eradication; ahh ...that’s a couple of million a year… so all up even if you count the early days when they first started investigating the, ahhm… incidents of foxes in the State, it’s been a bit over $50 million. [8.46]