“No hope” for fox control in urban parks

Peter Wiltshire with the only fox he’s caught with a pressure trap. Photo Oscar Perri.
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Melbourne park rangers say that foxes are here to stay, even controversial 1080 poison baits would not help. Oscar Perri reports.

Darebin Creek Management Committee (DCMC) Ranger in charge Peter Wiltshire says that he sees no way for [the committee] to use poisoned baits in Darebin Parklands, a popular spot with Melbourne’s dog walkers.

“Imagine if we killed someone’s pet, we would be hung, quartered and drawn. The foxes at the moment, dare I say it, are almost a protected species in the urban context.” He says.

Sodium fluoroacetate, commonly known as 1080 poison, is used in rural Victoria in baits for invasive species like foxes, wild dogs and feral cats. The RSPCA supports the use of 1080 for pest control but says that it is not a humane poison, and advocates for research into alternatives.

Australia is one of only six countries to allow the use of 1080 poison.

DCMC have investigated the viability of using 1080, laying un-poisoned baits to see what animals take them. “It’s always dog prints.” Wiltshire says.

“So if we were to put poison baits out we know we would kill someone’s dog, it’s proven to us that we can’t use poison baits here without closing down the park to the public.”

Other available fox control methods are ineffective, Wiltshire says that he’s only ever caught one fox with a ‘pressure trap’, over the years they have been using it.

Wiltshire says that foxes are not a threat to most wildlife in urban areas. “They’re more interested in the bins, they’re scavengers. They’ll take a duck, but realistically they’re just going into the suburbs and helping themselves to a couple of chooks.”

A fox at Alphington train station, near Darebin Parklands. Photo Oscar Perri.

“The one thing they are affecting badly here in terms of wildlife is the long-necked turtles. The turtles lay eggs around about December or January every year, and you go around the park finding all these little holes where the foxes have dug up the eggs…that’s a problem right along the state.”

Kate Grinter was the biodiversity officer for Banyule City Council, where says the fox problem was just as bad. She did an assessment on the viability of a baiting program, finding that “the densities are so high in urban areas that if you kill one, then another one will just come into the territory.”

Grinter conducted a baiting program at the St Helena Bush Reserve in Eltham, to protect rare orchids and other significant flora, which were being disturbed by foxes digging holes.

This was a rare case of meaningful urban fox control according to Grinter, “It has to be quite targeted and specific, with a reason for why you are doing it.”

She says for them, most of the time is spent managing human/fox conflict, rather population control. Grinter says Fox control presents “very different issues, urban and regional.”

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) uses 1080 poison baits in an ongoing effort to control fox populations in areas like the ‘Glenelg Ark’ in western Victorian forests. A DELWP study of the project found that “Fox activity remains significantly lower on treatment sites compared with on non-treatment sites.”

In question time last month Legislative Council member for Western Victorian Andy Meddick asked the government why they supported the use of 1080. Labor MP Gavin Jennings said it was necessary due to a lack of effective alternatives.

Fellow Western Victorian member Bev Macarthur has also spoken out against 1080 earlier this year. The Liberal member met with concerned constituents, voicing disapproval of a program to protect endangered Hooded Plovers.