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History and biology


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When were foxes introduced to Australia?

Image source D PantherSource: D. Panther. Victorian Wildlife Management

Foxes (Vulpes vulpes) (also called the red fox and European fox) were first introduced to Australia in around 1871. A small number were shipped from England for the purposes of sport hunting, and released into the wild in southern Victoria around Geelong, and also in South Australia. At the time, no one knew what a major problem they would become for Australian sheep graziers and the extent of the damage they would cause to our environment. By 1888, foxes were reportedly common in the Coorong region of South Australia. By 1893, foxes were so numerous, they were given 'pest' status and the first fox bounty scheme was introduced in Victoria. Shortly thereafter, foxes were declared as noxious animals in Armidale, NSW, and within a few years were reported to have spread into Queensland. The rapid spread of foxes was also attributed to deliberate human-assisted introductions to new areas.
Despite attempts to prevent the spread of foxes in many areas, there was very little to stop them. Within 100 years, this introduced pest species spread across most of Australia, and today they are estimated to occupy three quarters of the Australian continent plus some islands. In recent years, some illegal deliberate introductions to Tasmania (which remarkably remained fox free during the early colonisation days) now has local authorities on high alert. Across Australia, their range largely matches that of the rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) which also spread from south to north during the same period.

What we know about fox biology

Image source D PantherSource: D. Panther. Victorian Wildlife Management

Foxes are a member of the Canidae family, which also includes wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs. They are opportunistic predators and scavengers with no specific food requirements. Males are slightly larger in size than females, and adults can weigh between 4.5 and 8.3 kg.
Both males and females can be reproductively active at the age of one year. Females (called vixens) usually come into heat for only a few days between the months of July to October, and most cubs are born between August and September. The average litter has four cubs, but can be as high as ten cubs. Cubs are usually suckled for a period of around four weeks before being weaned onto solid foods. They generally emerge from a breeding den during spring.
Most foxes die from human actions or the effects of drought. Young foxes are also often killed on roadways while they are unfamiliar with vehicles, and during the period in which they disperse in search of their own territories. Foxes are known to carry parasites and diseases, and have been identified as a risk if rabies were to be introduced to Australia.
Foxes can survive in a wide range of habitats, including urban, coastal, alpine, forest, farmland and arid regions of Australia. They are commonly found in agricultural landscapes where food and shelter resources are available. Foxes are also increasingly being reported in urban areas as they capitalise on the food resources and shelter that urban and residential areas provide. They generally eat small animals including mammals, birds, frogs, reptiles, insects, as well as fruit and carrion (dead animals). They are considered the greatest threat to the survival of native fauna in Australia, and also prey on vulnerable livestock (mainly newborn lambs). Foxes may shelter in dens, hollow logs or anywhere they can find, and are mainly active at night. They may form family groups and may establish territories anywhere between 30 and 750 hectares in size. The size of territories is usually defined by the resources in that area. Adults rarely travel more than 10 km in a day.

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