The red fox remains a major threat to native wildlife, but its' ecology and habits make them easier to control than feral cats.


A red fox with a GPS collar, captured as part of Arid Recovery research into the effectiveness of baiting. Photo by Jenny Stott.


The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is one of the biggest threats to Australia’s endangered animals. Foxes were first released into Australia in the 1830s, however, it was not until the early 1900s that they really took off. Unlike feral cats, foxes have not colonised the whole country. There is a boundary running approximately from the Pilbara, through Tennant Creek to Townsville where foxes are only found south of that line.

While feral cats are a major threat to our wildlife, the red fox is arguably worse. Many endangered species of desert mammals have only been able to survive in parts of their ranges where foxes are rare, such the Bilby in southwest Queensland and the Pilbara. Foxes can kill larger animals than cats can. Also, each individual fox is able to cause greater damage than each individual cat, as they have a much greater propensity for surplus killing where they kill more than they can eat. For example, a single fox that snuck into the Arid Recovery reserve was able to kill more than five Burrowing Bettongs each night until it was removed a few days later.


 One of the many Burrowing Bettongs killed when a red fox that snuck into the Arid Recovery reserve, before we were able to remove it. Photo by Annie Walsh

Although each individual fox is a major threat to wildlife, they are actually much easier to control than feral cats. Foxes have a high-octane lifestyle, and need to drink and eat a lot every night to survive. This comes with some major costs. As they have such heavy energy requirements, they die off quite quickly during droughts when prey becomes scarce. 

As foxes require so much food, they also are not very fussy about what they eat. Carrion and garbage frequently turn up in their diet. This is a fortunate weakness for managing foxes, as it means they will readily eat poison baits (see here). 

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Arid recovery is a conservation initiative supported by:
bhp
adelaide university