The European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a widespread non-native pest animal found throughout NSW and considered responsible for a range of negative impacts on the NSW economy, community and the environment.
Predation by the European red fox in NSW is listed as a Key Threatening Process in Schedule 4 of the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. Since its introduction into Australia in the 1870s, the European red fox species has contributed to severe declines and extinctions of a suite of native fauna, particularly among medium-sized (450-5000 g) ground-dwelling and semi-arboreal mammals, ground-nesting birds and freshwater turtles.
A Pest Control Order for the European red fox has been repealed and has been replaced with a listing of the European red fox as a Priority Pest Animal. The biosecurity risks and impacts posed or likely to be posed by priority pest animal species are generally regulated under Part 3 of the Biosecurity Act 2015 (NSW), using the general biosecurity duty. A wide range of community members have a general biosecurity duty for management of the biosecurity risks and impacts associated with priority pest animals.
The general biosecurity duty is outlined in part 3 of the Biosecurity Act and the following sections are of specific relevance to priority pest animal management:
Section 22: The general biosecurity duty applies to a person who deals with biosecurity matter (including pest animals) or a carrier, and who knows, or ought reasonably to know the biosecurity risk posed or likely to be posed by the biosecurity matter, carrier or dealing. Such a person has a biosecurity duty to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the biosecurity risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised.
Section 23: provides an offence of failing to discharge the biosecurity duty.
Under the Biosecurity Regulation 2017 (NSW), the European red fox must not be kept or moved unless appropriately authorised for example for exhibition in a licensed zoo or for pest control purposes. Additionally, a captive European red fox must not be released.
Reducing the impact of the red fox relies on a mixture of control techniques comprising poison baiting, shooting, trapping, fencing and guard animals. All these techniques have a short term effect on local fox numbers. No single control method will be successful on its own and when foxes are removed from an area, reinvasion or immigration from existing untreated areas generally occurs within 2 to 6 weeks.
The most efficient way to reduce the impact of foxes is to conduct a strategic coordinated program over a number of land holdings.
The poison,1080 is used for fox baiting programs and is regulated by the 1080 PCO.
Note: Domestic, working and pet dogs are the most likely non-target animals to be affected by fox baiting and they must be restrained for the duration of the program. If showing any symptoms of poisoning they must receive urgent and immediate veterinary attention.
Most fox control programs are coordinated in association with Local Land Services and may involve local landholder groups, Landcare or other organisations.
The aim should be to have a large group of land managers reduce the impact of the red fox over as much of the landscape as possible in autumn and spring, the period of time most critical for the survival of offspring of sheep, goat or threatened species.
The groups need to decide when to bait, how long and how often. Once that is decided, the coordinator organises the number of baits, type of bait, the distribution and the signing of forms.
Baits should be placed near fences and tracks in the target area and throughout the paddocks. Foxes have an exceptional sense of smell and will locate baits over a wide area.
Buried baits are less likely to be removed by birds, attacked by ants, taken by other species such as feral cats or quolls, keeps fresher for longer periods, especially during summer in central and western NSW and more likely to rapidly degrade if left on site.
Bury baits at 200 to 500 m intervals. Placing too close together only encourages foxes to eat more and waste baits, use about 50 baits per 400 ha. Dig a small hole using a spade or mattock, insert spade into the soil and lever back about 50 mm, drop in the bait and lever the hole shut. Baits may also be tied to a fence. To reduce non-target impact, such as quolls, bury bait about 10 cm deep. Dragging carcasses along a trail only encourages foxes to follow the trail and eat multiple baits. One bait is sufficient to kill a fox.
Foxes are not frightened by human scent.
Bait at least a week before the period of highest impact, be that lambing, kidding or the presence of young of a threatened species. Continue poisoning at weekly intervals until bait uptake is minimal. Repeat baiting again if foxes migrate into the area.
Bait sites should be marked. Bait take may give an idea of fox activity, however, results can be misleading if one fox is eating multiple baits. All baits not taken should be collected and buried according to the current 1080 PCO.
Bait stations without poison may be set up in sensitive areas to monitor the activity of nontarget animals.
Spotlight counts using the method described in Monitoring Techniques section of this Manual before and shortly after baiting may determine if there was a reduction in fox numbers. The impact of fox predation may still be high if one fox is causing most of the damage.
Rabbits are the main prey of most foxes. A coordinated rabbit control program should assist to suppress the red fox population.
Canid Pest Ejectors are a spring-loaded toxin delivery device buried in the ground with an attractant attached. An animal pulls up on the attractant triggering a spring-loaded plunger that punctures a capsule of toxin and propels it into the animals mouth. These devices have been trialled extensively in NSW and Qld. The advantages of this method include: the target specificity associated with the pull strength required to trigger the ejector; and the placement of toxin in a stable capsule environment rather than in a bait substrate where degradation in toxin potency may occur over time. The technique should be used in combination with other control methods and not seen as a single option.
The red fox may be dissuaded from accessing some fields by use of electric fencing. Existing conventional fences may be upgraded by two offset live wires. One about 200 mm from the ground and about 200 mm offset from the fence and another near the top of and offset a similar distance. These wires should prevent foxes going under or over the fence. Any conventional 6 or 7 wire electric fence is effective provided the wire spacing prevents foxes from running through or crawling underneath. Foxes may go over a fence at ramps, stays, posts and under or over gates. Effective fox proof exclusion fencing for threatened species colonies is very expensive. A typical example from Western Australia consists of rabbit netting 2500 mm tall with 600 mm curved overhang supported by wires and 600 mm of foot netting on the predator approach side and offset electric fencing to keep both foxes and other animals such as wombats and kangaroos from damaging the fence. Unfortunately, some burrowing threatened species want to dig out of the enclosed area.
About 13% of respondents to a survey in NSW used shooting as the main technique for fox control. The next highest rated technique was baiting at 77%. Group shooting programs and fox drives or battues can be effective. Shooting provides a viable alternative in areas where foxes will not eat baits, baiting is not feasible or not a preferred option. Artificial distress calls may be used to call up foxes to within shooting range. To reduce welfare issues with injured animals a high velocity rifle fitted with a telescopic sight is recommended during both day and night. At night a spotlight of at least 100w is necessary.
The use of both cage traps and leg-hold traps for capture of the red fox is successful if time consuming. Both leg-hold traps and cage traps are suitable for use around dwellings and built up areas where poison baits cannot be used.
The use of leg-hold traps requires skill and training. Legislation governs what traps can be used and how and where they can be set
Cage traps are most successful in towns and around houses where foxes are stealing pet food or poultry and where landholders object to poisons and shooting. Cage traps should be relatively large, 1200 mm x 500 mm x 500 mm to reduce the impression of entering a confined space. The trap must be pegged down to prevent the fox rolling it over and releasing the door and the wire floor should be covered with soil. It may be necessary to try different bait types in an area to determine the most attractive. One of the more successful baits for cage traps is chicken fast food or rabbit. One advantage of cage traps is that domestic pets and non target animals captured in the trap can be released unharmed. All traps should be well concealed and well away from public gaze.
Although more research is required, there is some evidence that using 'guard' animals such as llamas, alpacas, donkeys and dogs can reduce fox predation on calves, lambs, goat kids, poultry and fairy penguins.
Non-lethal strategies suggested to deter fox presence include the destruction of dens and harbour such as weed infestations, fallen timber and rubbish sites. The destruction of other food sources, particularly carcasses and management of food for domestic working dogs and pets should further reduce fox activity.