Image from Public Domain Pictures.net.
Handsome fellow, isn't he. You wouldn't think that he and his fellows have been listed among the most damaging invasive species in Australia, would you, but, along with rabbits, feral cats and cane toads, they are.
Adaptive, opportunistic and intelligent it's estimated there are as many as two million red foxes on mainland Australia with only the tropical north and some isolated islands free of them. Tasmania has, until recently, has been free of foxes. Although they were introduced early in European settlement no permanent populations were established - it's believed they were wiped out by Tasmanian devils - but since 2002 there have been persistent reports of reintroductions and an eradication program has been started there.
How did they come to Australia? They and rabbits were introduced in the mid 1800s - rabbits for food and foxes for recreational hunting - although early releases seem to have failed. Foxes didn't spread rapidly and widely until a release on the Werribee Park property of the Chirnside family in 1871. Thanks, Chirnsides. While rabbits are a major prey for foxes - their spread followed that of rabbits - they are equally likely to prey on small animals like newborn lambs (which makes them a major pest in pastoral areas) and native mammals, frogs, birds including poultry, reptiles, insects, fruit and carrion. They are also carriers of a number of diseases and there is a well founded fear that if rabies ever reaches our shores - Australia is the only rabies free continent - they would form a reservoir for the disease. As a result extensive baiting using 1080 poison (which is not poisonous to native animals) is being widely carried out in some states to try to control them.
But foxes are not just bush or farm dwellers. These days urban foxes are increasing. Opportunistic scavengers as they are, and with their ability to make dens in burrows, under bushes and in hollow logs, they are perfectly adapted to make use of suburban gardens, parks and nature reserves.
The old folk song, The Fox - you can hear Nickel Creek's version here - epitomises the fox's reputation for cunning and slyness. A little unfair perhaps for a creature just trying to survive. It's hardly its fault we brought it to places where it has no natural enemies. That said though we have no choice but to wage war on them.