Image for The Fox Trail - Part 2

Tasmanian Times readers in other states of Australia can be forgiven for not understanding the roadmap prepared for Tasmania’s decade-long war on foxes. For the interested tourist to Tasmania, a few sign posts may help. Here we continue the fox trail into 2002.

Signpost 7: Before our fox trail turned south, the fox hunters were obliged at the discovery of a foot print in a muddy spot near Longford. There was just the one good print; it was plaster-cast and duly identified as probably from a fox - by experts, of course.  Local newspaper reporters became quite confused as to the exact location where the print was recovered; they reported three different places! This print-cast became a photographed media exhibit and joined another print set collected from the Burnie fox escapee in 1998.

Signpost 8: In early 2002 the first Minister for foxes told Tasmanians that he had ordered his Department to make “the fight against foxes, a No. 1 priority”. The “Wanted” sign was out for the fox - Tasmania’s public enemy No. 1. Coinciding with this declaration of war on foxes, the Minister told the media that there was a ‘reliable sighting of fox cubs at Somerset’; apparently Tasmania’s foxes were now breeding!

Signpost 9: Within days, the Government’s fox hunters at Somerset were hastily called back up to Launceston in late January 2002 when another fox was declared to be in a poppy field near the airport.  This necessitated a daylight fox-hunt with guns at the ready whilst a poppy harvester worked through the crop. No luck. The newest head of the government fox hunters was not deterred, “what we need to do is concentrate on the task and not get side-tracked by the fact that we have got to get a dead fox”. He was hoping for help from ordinary Tasmanian hunters - “there are a lot of shooters out there who have a lot of experience in tracking and hunting down animals…we hope to tap into that experience to broaden the number of people out there looking for foxes.” Again no luck.

Signpost 10:A senator agreed with Tasmanian conservation peak body that a $10,000 fox reward was now needed, but the Minister for foxes disagreed.  The government head fox hunter went public: Tasmanian foxes had developed ‘separate colonies’ at St Helens, Oatlands, Colebrook and Somerset, with the ‘main population’ located at Longford. The fox-hunters were hitting their straps with a number of fox “hot spots” where dens were thought to be located. “Fox cubs are usually out at this time of year (January) and we’ll be doing some whistling, using lures and cameras”. The fox hunt was front page news and gathering momentum by the day. But still the foxes remained “elusive”.

Signpost 11: In the middle of 2002 the Minister for foxes announced to a Parliamentary committee that there had indeed been a ‘plot’ to introduce foxes into Tasmania and release them at four different locations. Again it made the front page - “Fox Plot - how animal dumpers escaped the law”. This astonishing revelation contradicted all the information the Minister for foxes had received 12 months earlier from Tasmania Police! Amazingly the fox Minister did not accept the Tasmania Police findings, telling the committee that although the police found no substance to the fox importation claim, he was now “certain”. He told the committee: “Foxes have been reported just a few metres from people fishing…to investigate what is going on before disappearing. Some people are dubious but certainly I am not and I can’t afford to take risks”. “We’ve issued $50,000 reward [for information] and there has been a big response from Crime Stoppers and all are being investigated.”

All to no avail…no foxes or fox smugglers are ever caught. The reward is never paid out and an Assistant Commissioner of Police later formally denied any ‘big response from Crime Stoppers’. 

Signpost 12: Now the Tasmanian bounty hunter who produced a decayed fox body in 2001 with a rodent tooth in its entrails was back on the fox trail. He knew exactly where a vixen and her cubs were … but he won’t tell the authorities because, he claimed, an offered reward had been cancelled at the request of the Tasmanian government.  The bounty hunter was wild and vowed to kill the foxes - like he had done in 2001 - and display them at Hobart’s Parliament House. Fighting words…but all to no avail; no foxes.

Signpost 13: Another wildlife naturalist (and a former PWS ranger) reported observing a live fox in a bush run on a central Midlands property in September 2002. Amazingly this fox report doesn’t trigger any of the usual media coverage of the 2001 Longford fox sighting; or the Somerset fox cub sightings or the poppy field-fox near Launceston. The fox taskforce doesn’t even record the incident! The fox reporter is as trustworthy, experienced and credible as the field naturalist who reported the Longford fox but apparently the Conara sighting didn’t warrant the ‘priority No. 1’ response in 2002.  It would have to wait until 2006!

Meanwhile the hunt for fox dollars was on a rocky road. Squabbles had broken out over the State’s paperwork and the haggling over money requested from Canberra. A Tasmanian Greens politician couldn’t understand why money could be a problem after the Minister for foxes had declared the fox issue so serious that it was now his department’s “priority No. 1”. The politician simply asked why Premier Bacon hadn’t used the State’s multi-million dollar emergency reserve to get cash flowing immediately to hunt foxes. No one knows the answer…but Canberra was pestered to come to the fox party.

And they did ...

Earlier: The Fox Trail - Part 1