Fox Population on the Rise in Tasmania, Australia, Island’s Wildlife at Risk

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By Esther Tanquintic-Misa | December 5, 2012 2:42 PM EST

Fox population has been confirmed on the rise in Tasmania, Australia, sending concerns the growing presence of the predator will eventually put at risk the island's native wildlife.

In a new research by University of Canberra ecologists, using DNA detection techniques developed at the University on animal droppings, it was confirmed that the population number of the foxes are growing on the island. They have been to be widespread in northern and eastern Tasmania, but could possibly extend all over the area.

"There's nothing fantastic about foxes being in Tasmania. If we allow them to establish themselves we could see a catastrophic wave of extinction across the island," Stephen Sarre, University of Canberra professor in wildlife genetics and the research's team leader, said.

DNA analyses on 56 droppings gathered on the island since 2001, and mostly since 2008, were from foxes.

"The present situation could be as serious a threat to the pristine Tasmanian environment as the previous extinction wave was to Australia's mainland fauna," the team said in their report published in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology.

Researchers further discovered, based on genotypes, that there have been 18 individual foxes in Tasmania in the last four years, both of the male and female types, ultimately suggesting breeding and eventual population surge capable of risking the entire island.

"Our data suggests that foxes could be on the verge of becoming established irreversibly," Mr Sarre said.

"Given their apparent widespread distribution, the moment may even already have passed for a feasible eradication, although we do not suggest that now is the time to stop."

The researchers urged on both the state and federal governments to rake up eradication efforts against the predator animals. They likewise noted that solely targeting fox activity hotspots for eradication will be unsuccessful. Tasmania currently has an eradication program, but the team finds it ineffective.

"Tasmania's eradication program will take five years to bait all fox habitats and that this will result in failure," the team said in the report. "We suggest that a massive up-scaling of effort . . . is going to be required," Professor Sarre's team concluded.

"The present situation could be as serious a threat to the pristine Tasmanian environment as the previous extinction wave was to Australia's mainland fauna, following the arrival of Europeans and which has so far wiped out more than 20 species . . . Australia stands on the precipice of another major episode of mammalian extinctions."

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