Fox populations: Australia
© 2007 Commonwealth of Australia
European foxes can be found on most of the Australian continent where they represent a very successful invasive species.
Foxes were introduced to Australia in the mid-1800s for hunting and in about 100 years spread to most of the continent. Recently, foxes have also been introduced into Tasmania but efforts are already underway to eliminate foxes from this island. The map of fox distribution in Australia you see on the right hand side is taken from a fact-sheet on the website of the Department of Environment and Water Resources (Australian Government). This is a very useful resource on foxes and other invasive species.
Foxes have had a major impact on the Australian fauna, predating on ground nesting birds, mammals and reptiles. Moreover foxes compete with Australian native animals for food and habitat and can act as a reservoir of disease for wildlife and domestic animals.
Introduced foxes in Australia act as biological control agents, limiting the populations of many Australian mammals (7 mammals are threatened and a further 14 are perceived to be threatened). Smaller marsupials such as wallabies, possums and rat kangaroos in particular have suffered population declines due to fox predation. However, the decline of Australian mammals is due to a complex series of interacting factors. A recent study found that marsupials have survived best where dingoes (Australian wild dogs) are found at high densities. However, after they introduced sheep, the European settlers persecuted dingoes throughout the continent, leading to their extinction in many parts of south and east Australia. Dingoes kill the smaller foxes and cats, and so where dingo numbers are high, fox and cat numbers are low. Thus persecution of dingoes led to an increase in fox and cat numbers, and increased predation pressure on a number of marsupials.
Foxes are currently present in many suburban and metropolitan areas in Australia - Adelaide, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.
A study on urban foxes in Melbourne found that, contrary to what happens in the UK where foxes use other animals' borrows, foxes dug most of the dens they lived in. When denning beneath building, most foxes (75%) chose those occupied by a single person or where persons were not living on a permanent basis, indicating that they preferred areas with low human disturbance. As found previously in Britain, foxes preferred buildings without domestic dogs. Foxes selected areas infested with exotic weeds (fennel, blackberry and African thistle) as shelter during the daytime and these also have low human disturbance.
While introduced foxes successfully colonised mainland Australia, most Australian island have remained fox free until now. Unfortunately, there have been several illegal attempts to introduce red foxes in Tasmania, an island off the south-eastern coast of Australia, which supports a great diversity of endemic species.
From the late 1990s onwards, there appears to have been a number of introductions to Tasmania. In 2001 the Tasmanian Government established the Tasmanian Fox Free Taskforce to control and prevent an incursion of foxes into the island. In 2006, the Fox Free Taskforce examined all the available evidence of the presence of foxes in Tasmania and concluded that an unknown number of foxes, and possibly their offspring, are living in Tasmania and that action needs to be taken to prevent the spread of this invader.
Websites of interest
More information on the impact of foxes in Australia can be found on the following websites:
- Australian Government - Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Bureau of Rural Sciences with links to publications on fox control and management of other invasive species
- Australian Government - Department of Environment and Water Resources
- feral.org.au - a website on vertebrate pest species in Australia including a fact-sheet on foxes.
- Government of South Australia - Biosecurity SA
- New South Wales Government - including fact-sheets on foxes and fox control
- Northern Territory Government - Natural Resources, Environment and The Arts
- Queensland Government - Natural Resources and Water
- University of Canberra - Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre
For information on foxes in Tasmania, see:
- Department of Primary Industry and Water (DPIW) of the Tasmanian Government - Foxfree Tasmania
- DPIW of the Tasmanian Government - Fox impact on wildlife
- Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre - Supporting the eradication of foxes in Tasmania
- Anonymous (2005). Humane pest animal control: code of practice and standard operating procedures. Natural Heritage Trust & NSW Department of Primary Industries.
Download Humane pest animal control: code of practice and standard operating procedures (link to an external site; various PDF files)
- Dennis, C. (2002) Baiting plan to remove fox threat to Tasmanian wildlife. Nature 416, 357.
- Harris, S. (1981) An estimation of the number of foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in the city of Bristol, and some possible factors affecting their distribution. Journal of Applied Ecology 18, 455-465.
- Johnson, C.N., Isaac, J.L. & Fisher, D.O. (2007) Rarity of a top predator triggers continent-wide collapse of mammal prey: dingoes and marsupials in Australia. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274, 341-346.
- Kinnear, J.E., Sumner, N.R. & Onus, M.L. (2002) The red fox in Australia - an exotic predator turned biocontrol agent. Biological Conservation 108, 335-359.
- Marks, C.A. & Bloomfield, T.E. (2006) Home-range size and selection of natal den and diurnal shelter sites by urban red fox (Vulpes vulpes) in Melbourne. Wildlife Research 33, 339-347.
- Saunders, G. & McLeod, L. (2007) Improving fox management strategies. Bureau of Rural Sciences, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
Download Improving fox management strategies (link to an external site; PDF 2,371 Kb)
- Saunders, G., Coman, B., Kinnear, J. & Braysher, M. (1995) Managing vertebrate pests: foxes. Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra.
Download Managing vertebrate pests: foxes (link to an external site; PDF 219 Kb and PDF 1,571 Kb)
- Saunders, G., Lane, C., Harris, S., & Dickman, C. (2006). Foxes in Tasmania: a report on an incursion of an invasive species. Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, Canberra.
Download Foxes in Tasmania: a report on an incursion of an invasive species (link to an external site; PDF 891Kb)