Mainland Forgotten Fauna: Part 3 – The event that changes everything – foxes establish in the region

Not long after 1893, when the stories shared in Part 1 of this series were recorded, the fox became seriously entrenched in the region and the environment started to undergo a significant transformation. But first, what can the records tell us about this period, and how that transformation unfolded?

The European Red Fox

The European Red Fox

After occasional releases near Melbourne in the 1850s for hunting, and becoming fully established as a result of subsequent releases in the 1870s, the first mentions of foxes in the near border zone between SA and Victoria appear occasionally in old newspaper articles in 1891, 1892 and 1893 – but they are rare in number, and typically individual sightings.

Then in 1894, that all starts to change:

The Border Watch - Strathdownie correspondent news - 8th August 1894

The Border Watch – Strathdownie correspondent news – 8th August 1894

Earlier in this article, the expedition is described specifically as a “fox hunt” – remembering that in similar (very intensive) hunting events only a year earlier (as shared in Part 1) not a single fox was shot or seen. Around this time, people were writing in to the papers hoping to see foxes become more numerous for shooting as sport. Clearly a case of “be careful what you wish for”!

Because then, only a year later, the relative novelty of a fox hunt is being replaced by a growing realisation that the fox is now fast becoming a serious pest across the entire region:

Border Watch - 17th July 1895

Border Watch – 17th July 1895

Then 10 years later, at Strathdownie, in 1906:

Strathdownie correspondents report - 23rd June 1906

Strathdownie correspondents report – 23rd June 1906

By this stage, poisoning is required and is killing “scores” of foxes – remember that a score = 20, so we are talking very large numbers.

The parallels with the arrival of rabbits, also released deliberately in Victoria, makes for very frustrating reading. Early excitement at the novelty of having rabbits establish in Victoria after their successful release (by groups like the Acclimatisation Society, who undertook many deliberate releases of European species), is rapidly displaced within a couple of decades by widespread despair at their impact on the environment – especially for farmers.

But why did fox populations explode with such ease across southern Australia?

Why did they meet so little natural resistance?

The answer (which some of you have already guessed I’m sure!) will be explored in the next installment…