Wary foxes – smarter than our baiting regimes?

by Tracey Moore.  A recent study looking into the effectiveness of 1080 baiting in Western Australian wheatbelt reserves noted a single fox surviving after 8 baiting campaigns (Marlow et al. 2015). This signifies we are up against some clever foxes when it comes to the control of wild canids. After all the saying ‘cunning as a fox’ must come from somewhere.

IMAG0238 IMAG0244IMAG0241 IMAG0239The same piece of literature also notes that the density of foxes is lower in baited sites than unbaited sites, which indicates that ongoing baiting programs like Western Shield are effective. However, are baiting programs removing all foxes? Or just the young, naive foxes with no preconceived ideas about 1080 baits.

Older, smarter foxes may have had a sub-lethal dose somewhere along the line, learning that those baits aren’t tasty, forming a learned aversion. This learned aversion to poisonous baits has the ability to reduce the effectiveness of baiting campaigns, allowing the smarter foxes to pass on the aversion of poisonous baits to their offspring.

Near Carnarvon, Western Australia, 44 of 45 radio-tracked foxes died from 1080 baiting (Thomson et al. 2000), leaving one remaining fox with the smarts to avoid poisonous baits. That one fox could potentially “train” its future offspring to avoid poisonous baits.

How do land managers of forested areas and private land owners attempt to reduce the numbers of ‘cunning foxes’ eating not only our native fauna but production livestock? Many attractants, lures, pre-feeding and other methods could be used to increase the uptake of baits, such as condensed milk, stinky fish and a newly laid bare patch of sand.

Research is underway with the hope to not only learn more about these older and wiser foxes, but also how to make baits more attractive to wild dogs, how to increase wild canid uptake of baits, as well as investigate methods to reduce wild canid predation on lambs and other livestock. If you are interested in working with us please look at the tab ‘interested in working with us’.

Marlow, N. J., N. D. Thomas, A. E. A. Williams, B. Macmahon, J. Lawson, Hitchen Y., J. Angus, and O. Berry. 2015. Lethal 1080 baiting continues to reduce European Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) abundance after more than 25 years of continuous use in south-west Western Australia. Ecological management and restoration 16:131-141.

Thomson, P. C., N. J. Marlow, K. Rose, and N. E. Kok. 2000. The effectiveness of a large-scale baiting campaign and an evaluation of a buffer zone strategy for fox control. Wildlife Research 27:465-472.

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