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After 11 years Tasmania’s publicly-funded fox hunting program has yet to produce one fox by their own efforts.

No trapped foxes, no shot foxes, no poisoned foxes, and no images of foxes from thousands of hours of sensor camera operations; and most importantly no evidence of breeding.
Yet according to University of Canberra’s Professor Stephen Sarre Tasmania has been home to at least 18 defecating foxes.

After importing over 1000 fox scats from the Australian mainland over several years and claiming their fox-detector dogs were integral to their surveillance efforts, DPIPWE’s scent-tracking dogs are not able to detect the foxes responsible for this very small number of widely dispersed scats.

In 2005 DNA tested scats have turned out to be ‘fox-positive’ from Boat Harbour to Gladstone and from near Devonport to Geeveston; the DNA test even reported a positive result on a scat collected Bruny Island.

DPIPWE came to the conclusion that a fox-positive scat must mean there were foxes on Bruny Island. They searched for foxes on Bruny Island, they searched for more fox scats… nothing was found to support that assumption.

This should have been a “light-bulb moment” for this national program. The obvious thing to do would have been to review the emphasis or weight this program gave to their basic assumption: scat detection = fox presence.

So did the Fox Program go back and check their chain of custody, the possibility of error in field collection, mislabelling, or the possibility of DNA-contamination in either the field or the laboratory?  Who knows?

Yet since 2005 DPIPWE had provided Professor Sarre’s laboratory in Canberra with nearly 10,000 field-collected shits and he has reported that 63 scats from Tasmania reacted positively in his fox-DNA test.

The research published by Professor Sarre and his colleagues a few days ago is based on that old data. 

Scats… the media tarts that they are in Tasmania have been flogged mercilessly through virtually every media outlet in State… but still those enigmatic crappers remain at large.

So I ask how can Professor Sarre claim that there’s a ‘small but widespread population of foxes in Tasmania’ based on a small widespread collection of crap?

Interviewed on ABC News 24 Professor Sarre was asked: How many foxes do you think there are in Tasmania?

Professor Stephen Sarre: Well, we don’t know how many foxes there are in Tasmania. Ahh… what we do know is that, ahhm… of the 50 or more, ahh… droppings that we’ve been able to detect as having fox DNA, we’ve been able to DNA profile 18 of them and every one of those scats has been unique [i.e. a different animal]. So, ahh… it represents, ahh… droppings from, ahh… different animals. So we know there have been at least 18 animals, ahh… free-living in Tasmania in the last few years. 

And yet at this unquantifiable - very low density – fox density Tasmania managed to produce three dead foxes assumed to be road killed; one in 2003 [at Burnie] and two in 2006 [at Lillico on the Bass Highway and on Glen Esk Road in the Midlands].

So it seems it was easier to run down a fox or three crossing a road than it is to shoot one, trap one, poison one or take a picture of one.

The well-funded program in Tasmania still cannot find any foxes – dead or alive.

Dr Sarre, how does your scat science explain this decade-long enigma?