Fox on the run: ABC Landline program
Posted on 22 October 2012
ABC's Landline broadcast a very interesting program on controlling foxes in Australia, featuring a number of people including the SFP's Robert Borsak.
See the program here on the Landline website, or read the transcript below:
PIP COURTNEY, PRESENTER: The Victorian Government is lauding the success of its reintroduced fox bounty, which resulted in almost 117,000 pelts in the first year. It claims this is a massive increase on previous fox control measures, which only managed to eradicate about 20,000 in the previous three years.
In New South Wales, the Fishers and Shooters Party is now calling for a similar bounty, but there are questions about its effectiveness and if the money would be better spent on coordinated baiting programs.
SEAN MURPHY, REPORTER: After forging a career as a champion sailor and sailmaker in Europe, Andrew Landenberger is back helping his father Don on the family farm near Glen Innes in the NSW New England region.
ANDREW LANDENBERGER, LOGANVILLE, GLEN INNES, NSW: I'm trying to get back to help. Dad's not getting any younger. He's pushing on 80 and he's been doing it on his own for years. He's still going strong, but I thought I better get home and find out what I've been missing out on all these years.
SEAN MURPHY: And these days a gun is essential on their daily lambing rounds because of the number of foxes.
Have you been surprised at how many foxes there are?
ANDREW LANDENBERGER: Yes, very surprised. I was a keen shooter as a young fellow up here and it was a bit of a trophy to get a fox, but these days we're just knocking them over in the paddock anywhere we see them.
We'll go round the paddock checking lambs and think we're doing pretty well and that we won't have any dead bodies and then we come to a place like this and we find a number of them that have been brought down here and eaten and just the remains are left here. So, often you don't really realise just how many you're losing until you find locations like this.
SEAN MURPHY: Next door, Ed Moorhead is checking his lambs three times a day. It's a new routine for the dedicated cattleman who found the gross margins in fat lamb production too much to resist this year.
But with the diversification into sheep, he's had to seriously consider foxes for the first time since he bought 1,100 hectare Glenlomond 13 years ago.
ED MOORHEAD, GLENLOMOND, GLEN INNES, NSW: No, they've always been here and we've never taken much notice of them at all, probably much to the disappointment of some of our neighbours who have been fat lamb producers for years. But now we're obviously much more conscious of them and to ensure that we get, you know, a good lambing percentage, we've obviously got to control them.
ANDREW COX, INVASIVE SPECIES COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA: Foxes are one of our worst feral animals in Australia. They were introduced deliberately by hunters. They have already caused a large number of extinctions of our small mammals. They cover already most of Australia and continue to cause massive impacts on animals and some birds. And they're also spreading into the Kimberley now which is quite alarming.
ANDREW DAVIDSON, NEW ENGLAND LIVESTOCK HEALTH AND PEST AUTHORITY: And all we're working on is the principle that for the animal to get that bait off there, it's got to do some work. So if it's going to start chewing it to get it off there, there's a greater chance that it'll go through and eat it.
SEAN MURPHY: Andrew Davidson, from the New England Livestock Health and Pest Authority is in the front line of fox control. Without a coordinated baiting program, these farmers say they'd lose up to 40 per cent of their lambs. But today, they're being encouraged to bait for wild dogs to cover both problems.
ANDREW DAVIDSON: The animals find it really, really appealing and we've done trials both with wild dogs and foxes and even domestic stuff.
I just say why take the chance? There's dogs in the area and a fox bait will kill a majority of dogs, but why take the chance? There's no real cost differential to controlling dogs versus foxes, so - and there's a wide range of baits available that can be used for wild dogs as well. So I think it's very important to do good integrated control.
SEAN MURPHY: And while these farmers have been using baits, they reckon shooting is also crucial for fox control.
Ron Kiehne and Peter Kennedy shot more than 100 foxes on Glenlomond just before lambing. They're recreational shooters and consider themselves conservation hunters.
RON KIEHNE, CONSERVATION HUNTER: We've got quite a few properties we hunt on and we might go on there six or eight times a year and then foxes will wise up, and then next year you'll go in and you'll get the pups out and shoot them out again. Foxes do that much damage and they just have to be kept under control.
Same with feral cats. They're doing a hell of a lot of damage, same as foxes. The estimates of four to seven million foxes in Australia, that could be well underestimated, and if every one of them kills one native animal a day, there's four million a day going.
This little vixen, she's had pups so that means another probably half a dozen young lamb-eaters out there.
PETER KENNEDY, CONSERVATION HUNTER: We can see there around the tit itself, it's been suckled by small foxes. So, yes, it's good to take this one out of the system because these are breeders that put the majority of the foxes back into the ecosystem that we don't want.
SEAN MURPHY: Last year the pair shot about 200 foxes. Ron Kiehne reckons the secret to success is his fox whistle, which he designed and now sells commercially.
RON KIEHNE: You can go out in the bush and find an area where the foxes are and you can bring them to you. You don't discriminate, you don't kill anything else. You only aim at the one animal and you get rid of that.
SEAN MURPHY: How does the whistle work?
RON KIEHNE: The whistle basically imitates an injured animal. A lot of people think it's only a rabbit. It's basically based on a rabbit, a rabbit squeal. But you can actually whistle up foxes where there are no rabbits. I've been out Broken Hill and Cameron's Corner and places like that and I've actually whistled up foxes out there and there wasn't a rabbit in sight.
SEAN MURPHY: With a camera mounted on his rifle, Roy Kiehne has gathered extraordinary pictures of foxes lured into range by his whistle.
While there's no actual gauge of fox numbers in Australia, anecdotal evidence suggests numbers are on the rise. In Victoria, a $10 bounty reintroduced last year has resulted in almost 117,000 scalps returned in the first 12 months. The NSW Fishers and Shooters Party is urging the NSW Government to introduce its own fox bounty.
ROBERT BORSAK, NSW FISHERS AND SHOOTERS PARTY: I think NSW should be doing it because it's a damn good opportunity to put sustained long-term pressure on the fox population for all the conservation benefits that we know that that will bring. The NSW budget is something like $52 billion.
Why couldn't they take $10 million over 10 years and just spend a million dollars a year as a quota and get the 100,000 foxes in NSW, the same that they've done in Victoria? Very simple, very easy and it would have major conservation benefits and also major agricultural benefits.
SEAN MURPHY: The NSW Government does not support a bounty. It says the money is better spent on a coordinated, targeted baiting program supported by science. That's also the view of the Invasive Species Council of Australia.
ANDREW COX: A fox bounty scheme is pretty much useless. The study that was done in Victoria where it was in operation for one year found that the $1.5 million spent led to a very short-term reduction of foxes by about 4 per cent.
But to make real inroads into the population, to even start to reduce it long term, you need to get the rate up near 65 per cent. A fox bounty is like rural social welfare, so if that's your goal, fine, but if your goal is to make an impact on feral animals, it won't achieve that whatsoever.
SEAN MURPHY: Andrew Cox says bounties can be subject to fraud and just encourage hunting in the most convenient locations instead of targeting where foxes are doing most damage.
But in NSW, Fishers and Shooters MP Robert Borsak believes conservation hunting can and does have an important place in feral animal control. He says a registered hunting program in state forests run by the Game Council of NSW has resulted in 100,000 animals killed since it started six years ago.
His party did a deal with the O'Farrell Government this year guaranteeing privatisation of the state's power generators in exchange for support to extend the conservation hunting program into national parks.
ROBERT BORSAK: The program will be run by the Game Council using the same model that they currently use and have been using for the last 6.5 years on state forests in NSW. It's a very managed, very controlled risk managed process. It'll work through the booking system that they currently run. There'll be exclusion zones, there'll be all sorts of controls in and around it. It's worked - it's actually a world's best practice system that - you don't see that running anywhere else in the world.
SEAN MURPHY: The Invasive Species Council says the proposal should be seen as politically motivated, not as serious feral animal control.
ANDREW COX: So we're quite alarmed about the proposal for the Game Council to have access to national parks because the motivations are wrong. The objectives and the functioning of the Game Council is all about the interests of recreational hunters and game management, not feral animal control, and we're going to be diverting scarce resources from effective feral animal control programs in national parks.
SEAN MURPHY: The Shooters and Fishers Party says conservation hunting in NSW is here to stay and data gathered by the Game Council supports its effectiveness.
ROBERT BORSAK: If you take the conservation hunters who were surveyed and you get their results both on public and private land, there's over three million feral animals being taken by that group of hunters on private and public land in the last six years. I think that's pretty credible.
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