Massive hunt for stowaway rogue fox
Nick Squires in Sydney
Armed rangers, professional trackers and bloodhounds have been drafted into the island state of Tasmania to hunt a lone fox which is believed to have arrived as a stowaway.
Tasmania is one of the few parts of Australia which remains fox-free. On the mainland the animals were introduced for sport in the 19th century and have had a devastating effect on native wildlife such as possums and small kangaroos.
This week Tasmanian wildlife protection officers have spent long, cold nights hunting for the fox in farmland near the northern town of Launceston.
In a last-ditch effort to catch the animal, five trackers with a pack of dogs have been brought in from the state of Victoria, across the Bass Strait, to join 30 local hunters and national park rangers armed with shotguns.
One of the team, farmer Jim Dingwall, said finding the fox would not be easy. 'I think it's going to be tough. But if they want to keep foxes out of Tasmania they have got to pursue this one.' Tasmania has so far remained a haven for a wide variety of native animals which on the mainland have been all but wiped out, including the otoroo, a ground-dwelling marsupial resembling a large mouse, and pademelons, a species of tiny wallaby.
Stan Matuszek, of the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service, said: 'The fox population on the mainland is estimated at between 10 million and 40 million, and they eat everything from wildlife to pigs, chickens and lambs. They have a huge impact.'
The rogue fox is believed to have arrived in Tasmania on board a container ship from Melbourne. It was first reported in Tasmania nearly a month ago near the town of Longford, and this week was held responsible for breaking into a poultry shed and killing a number of chickens.
Bad weather yesterday hampered the efforts of the hunters. 'It's pretty cold and miserable out there but it's important that we find this animal and get rid of it,' Mr Matuszek said.