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Threatening Processes

Foxes in Tasmania

The European red fox (Vulpes vulpes) was introduced to mainland Australia as early as the 1850's. Since that time the fox has inflicted enormous impacts on the native wildlife of Australia, being implicated in the extinction of many native animals. Indeed, Australia's appalling record of mammal extinctions in the last 200 years - the worst in the world - is in no small part due to the fox.

Increased evidence of the presence of foxes in Tasmania grew since the late 1990s. A range of physical items collected since 1998 indicated fox activity in the State. The increasing accumulation of this evidence, along with a volume of credible fox sighting reports from members of the public, led the Tasmanian Government to initiate a 10-year fox eradication program from 2006 to 2014. 

Encouragingly, no physical evidence of fox activity has been collected in Tasmania since July 2011 and it is hoped that fox eradication has been successful. 

However, detecting foxes when they are in low numbers is very difficult and it is important that all members of the Tasmanian community remain vigilant for foxes and signs of their activity. With millions of foxes on our doorstep on mainland Australia, there can be no doubt that foxes continue to be a real and serious threat to Tasmania's environment, agriculture and economy.

The public is urged to take seriously the threat which the fox poses to our State, and report any fox sightings and any other evidence (unusual scats, den sites, stock kills) to the INVASIVE SPECIES HOTLINE 1300 369 688.

Foe further information see the Invasive Species web pages.

The Potential Threat to Tasmania's Wildlife

The fox represents the single most devastating threat to Tasmania's native mammals and birds. This island State is recognised as a national and international fauna haven due to the lack of foxes, but should the species become established here all of Tasmania's native land animals would be at risk.

Threatened and high conservation significance species at risk would include:

  • eastern barred bandicoot
  • Tasmanian bettong
  • long nosed potoroo
  • eastern quoll
  • southern brown bandicoot
  • long tailed mouse
  • velvet furred rat
  • New Holland mouse
  • hooded plover
  • little tern
  • fairy tern
  • ground parrot
  • ground thrush
  • painted button quail
  • great crested grebe
  • green and gold bell frog
  • tussock skink
  • glossy grass skink.

The Tasmanian pademelon and Tasmanian bettong, both of which thrive in Tasmania, are now extinct on the mainland largely because of the fox. The mainland eastern barred bandicoot has been reduced to a mere 200 surviving individuals largely due to the fox. The young of unique species such as the Tasmanian devil, spotted tail quoll that are left unattended in dens are highly vulnerable to fox predation.

More widespread species like ducks, shorebirds, ground nesting birds, blue tongue lizards, mountain dragons, skinks and frogs are all highly at risk.

Even animals such as the little penguin and platypus are at risk.

Additionally, foxes are carriers of disease and spread environmental weeds.

The Potential Threat to Tasmania's Agricultural Industry

Domestic poultry, sheep and lambs are targeted by foxes. Foxes can also carry diseases which impact upon both native wildlife and domestic stock. They are known carriers of distemper, parvovirus, canine hepatitus, heart worm, hydatids and sarcoptic mange. Indeed, it is believed that the individual fox which escaped from a container ship in Burnie in May 1998 had a 12% chance of carrying heart worm.

In Europe, the fox is the main carrier of rabies. Should rabies ever be introduced into Australia, foxes would likely be the main agent of its spread.

The Fox has Ravaged the Australian Mainland's Wildlife

The European Red Fox is recognised nationally as the single most devastating introduced pest and threat to Australia's native land animals. It has been listed as a National Threat on the Commonwealth Endangered Species Protection Act 1992.

A national research and management effort is underway to investigate and trial biological and other forms of eradication. To date, there is no evidence that control measures have met with success in limiting the distribution or abundance of the fox. Introduced to mainland Australia in the 1850's, it is now widespread across every State except the tropical far north and Tasmania.

Australia's wildlife has not evolved in the presence of foxes, and therefore lacks adequate adaptations to cope with the predatory prowess of the fox. In Victoria, for example, the fox has established itself in all terrestrial environments from inner urban areas to alpine heaths, rainforests to coastal heaths and mallee. It is known to have caused the extinction of six mammals and is currently causing the near extinction of the:

  • eastern barred bandicoot
  • long footed potoroo
  • broad toothed rat
  • New Holland mouse
  • mountain pygmy possum
  • brushtailed rock wallaby
  • broad-shelled tortoise
  • malleefowl
  • hooded plover
  • little tern.